Crawling back to health

Duncan Goodhew, the Olympic gold medallist, left, talks to Rachelle Thackray about how his survival course takes stressed executives out of the fast lane and puts them back in the swim of things
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OLYMPIC swimming gold medallist Duncan Goodhew has to be taken seriously when it comes to health and fitness.

And, although he jokingly labels his new management course for top executives "high value navel-gazing", he is not kidding when he asserts that an alarming proportion of executives are heading for physical catastrophe - unless they invest in their health as well as in stocks and shares.

Goodhew, who has teamed up with Henley Management College to offer a two-day executive survival course, says: "25 or 30 per cent of executives have significant health issues that, if unresolved, will lead to major health problems. We have even had a number who haven't been able to come on the course, and we have picked up several cases of diabetes," says Goodhew, an MBE.

He is one of a growing number of distinguished sportsmen who are translating lessons hard-won in the stadium into lucrative programmes designed to help less well-toned executives improve their all-round performance.

"I had already been doing motivational speeches and courses for years, and had spoken to most large companies," explains Goodhew, who has pulled together a team comprising William Mitchell, a clinical psychologist, Malcolm Emery, a physiologist, and David Seddon, a partner at accountants Coopers & Lybrand.

It was two years ago that he took the germ of an idea for a course to the accountancy firm: they immediately backed it and sent their own employees on it. Then Henley became interested, and invited Goodhew to develop a version for executives from companies across the board.

But isn't his creed merely common sense? Surely everyone has the low- down on healthy eating, ergonomics and exercise? It's more than a case of just swapping a Mars bar for a fruit salad, argues Goodhew. "We deal with coping strategies and the choice and change model. You can only choose between these things when you have some knowledge."

There are well-known links between stress and cancer, for instance. "It's been shown that prolonged periods of stress can be one of the triggers to clinical depression," says Goodhew. "People are only just starting to understand the correlations. This is cutting-edge stuff."

He goes on to detail the chemical processes triggered by a flow of adrenaline, citing the "soldier's heart" syndrome discovered during the First World War: "Adrenaline makes the heart pump harder; it's a powerful survival mechanism and it affects the brain, both short-term and long-term."

Executives, when they check in at Henley, go through a series of preliminary checks; health and fitness tests, heart, lung and blood tests to measure stress, and a questionnaire to see how they perceive their current state. The course also claims to act like a superannuated anti-wrinkle cream - by slowing down ageing.

"We assume that ageing is a foregone conclusion, but some people seem to have it cracked," says Goodhew. "Little things can make so much difference to us; it's not nice being moody. People are not designed to sit in offices all day, he believes. "Go back a few centuries and we were essentially hunter-gatherers. What kind of quality of life do you get in an office? The problem with many executives is that they've had a very active sports life which has just been put on a back-burner. But there is a choice."

Duncan Goodhew's Executive Survival Programme will run in May, June and August. For details of the course, telephone Sharon Crabtree on 01491 571454.