Slow and steady wins the race: an interview with Dr John Mayhew


Best Doctors asks renowned sports medicine specialist Dr John Mayhew for key advice that everyone should keep in mind before heading out on the road or the treadmill. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or just getting started with a new sport, read on for insight on how you can lessen your risk of injury and reap the greatest fitness benefits.

Dr John Mayhew is an Auckland-based consultant in Sports Medicine who has served as advisor and consultant for a number of New Zealand sports associations and teams, including New Zealand Rugby and New Zealand Squash. Chairman of the Australia and New Zealand Insurance Medical Association, he is currently team doctor for the New Zealand Warriors of the National Rugby League and is the former team doctor and chief medical advisor for the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team.

a photo of Dr John Mayhew

For how long has jogging been a popular exercise option, in your opinion? Is it something that has only recently become popular?

Regular aerobic exercise like jogging, cycling and swimming for 30 minutes, four to five times per week, has been recognised for over 30 years as a mainstay of a regular exercise programme to improve health outcomes and longevity. However, in the last few years, jogging alone has been recognised as not being enough. For optimal outcomes, strength or resistance training needs to be included, as well as post exercise stretching to maintain flexibility and joint range of movement.

What are the benefits and risks for regular joggers?

Jogging has been popular for over 40 years because of its convenience and accessibility. Other aerobic activities like cycling and swimming confer similar benefits with perhaps less injury risk. Jogging needs to be started gradually, perhaps initially on alternate days and often interspersed by a walk/jog routine gradually increasing the time run. The benefits are improved physical fitness, decreased health risks and improved psychological well-being. The risks early are joint and tendon injuries of the lower limbs-Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, stress fractures, shin splints and non-specific anterior knee pain. These can be reduced by using good footwear, appropriate clothing and a graduated training programme.

What key exercise advice would you give people in terms of age, gender or physique?

The key advice for any regular exercise is to start easy and light and gradually increase. Use the 10% rule: never increase distance, intensity, weight lifted etc. by more than 10% per week. It often pays to get expert advice on your programme and especially any injuries. An exercise programme can be started at any age, including strength training. Women sometimes experience more knee and hip pain initially with running, which can be minimised by going slow and steady. Overweight or obese athletes may literally want to walk before they run, and adopt a sensible diet to initiate weight loss.

What are the main errors that lead to sports injuries?

Most running injuries are caused by doing to much too soon. Use good footwear and gradually increase load. Poor footwear and running surface changes can contribute. Start slowly and listen to your body. Aim to train no more than 5 days a week: the extra training increases training injury risk but only marginally improves fitness.

Apart from personal preference what factors should people take into consideration when taking up a particular sport or exercise activity?

Any exercise programme needs to be enjoyed by the athlete or compliance will be poor. Do an aerobic exercise you enjoy and are able to do and will continue doing! Add in several strength training sessions per week, and possibly stretching or yoga classes.

For those who do exercise or play sports on a regular basis, what kind of diet would you recommend?

Eat a well balanced diet and have three regular meals per day. Avoid heavy meals too soon prior to exercise. Eat all the food groups and have at least four servings of fruit or vegetables per day. Keep hydratrated and on warms days, weigh before and after exercise and replace fluid lost: water is best! Coffee and tea in moderation is not harmful and may even give a performance boost pre-exercise.

What is your opinion of the vitamin supplements typically sold in gyms or health food stores? What about so-called sports gels, bars or beverages?

Vitamins and sports supplements are generally not required and are expensive. Sports gels, bars etc. can be useful post training if regular food is not practicable to consume. The average athlete needs a balanced diet and good hydration.

In your opinion, what how does regular exercise impact someone’s mental or emotional state of mind?

Regular physical exercise has been shown in numerous trials to help mood and can even be effective in treating low-grade depression. It can be a mood stabiliser and help relieve stress. Exercise can increase the level of endorphins and help create a natural high. Regular exercisers feel withdrawal symptoms when they don’t exercise.

Proper clothing, footwear and equipment are, in general, very important when it comes to sports and exercise. What, in your opinion, is essential to keep in mind when it comes to being properly equipped?

The common mistake for runners is buying improper footwear and continuing to use them past the expiry date. You need good gear, a sensible training pattern, early attention to injuries and do exercise you enjoy as well as being good for you!


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