With the festive season upon us we are nearing the time of year gyms like best – when a rush of office-bound dreamers sign up for 12 months before flaking three sessions later.
Mark Gillett, director of performance at Premier League football side West Bromwich Albion, believes there is another way.
Working at Spire Little Aston hospital in Sutton Coldfield he is offering tailored fitness programmes for a range of people who may not fancy the gym – from pensioners who want to stay healthy to executives who don’t have two hours to spare.
And as someone with little time on my hands, and declining fitness, I am giving it a go.
While there is no promise of Premier League stamina, Dr Gillett believes there isn’t a job in the world that would not be performed better the fitter you are.
He said there is a clear gap between total inactivity and regular gym attendance where the service operates – offering preventative programmes for active individuals who’d just like to be healthier.
He said: “We are just keen to see people who want to get fit. That could be a group of executive people who think they can improve their performance at work, or just someone who wants to get fit and live longer.
“It can help you at work. At the moment you do a lot of things wrong and it doesn’t impair performance but when you get to 45 that might not be the case.
“People don’t understand enough about exercise and the effect that improvements in lifestyle can have.
“We want a catch-all type scenario – we want to see people that have got sports injuries which have stopped them from exercising through to retired people.”
There is a vast amount of research behind Dr Gillett’s theory showing a positive impact on the bottom line from workplace wellness.
A US Department of Health and Human Services report revealed that at companies with exercise programs as components of their wellness programs, healthcare costs decreased by between a fifth and 55 per cent and short-term sick leave was lowered from 38 per cent to 32 per cent, while productivity increased.
As a sports and exercise medicine consultant, Dr Gillett will form part of the hospital’s Perform unit, which specialises in advanced performance, sports medicine and rehabilitation.
His role will involve working with sports professionals and semi-professionals to help prevent injury and improve their overall sporting performance.
But for the less sporting of us, this combines a medical approach with training and posture work to both improve fitness and identify and deal with weaknesses in the body.
Dr Gillett added: “People generally put on weight as they get old – men certainly – and that can lead to all sorts of things that can affect you at work – like your powers of recovery and generally having less stamina.
“If you lose one per cent of your fitness a year in ten years that is going to mean a significant impact.”
Dr Gillett said some of the big firms, like Goldman Sachs, have invested a lot of money in corporate wellness, with things like gyms on site and classes, which have yielded results, but there is a long way to go.
“I work on the 15 to 20-minute premise,” he said. “There are few people that have got time to go to the gym for 40 minutes – which would probably be an hour and 15 minutes with travel – but most people can spare 15 or 20 minutes in their day.”
He added: “It is a bit like a car – you have got to make it fit for purpose. If you have got a long journey you have got to make sure your tyres are in good order – the body is no different.
“If you turn up at a gym you have made the decision that you are going to get fit, and have committed. We are trying to encourage the people who are a bit intimidated but would like to be fitter.”
As well as his role at West Brom, Dr Gillett is also head of athletic performance for British Basketball.
He was previously first team doctor at Chelsea and a consultant in emergency medicine at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust.
Keeping a multi-million pound team in peak condition
Gone are the days when a football club’s medical department consisted of a man carrying magic spray.
At West Bromwich Albion, Mark Gillet heads up a team of about 20 experts with the aim of keeping talent costing tens of millions of pounds a year on the pitch, rather than in the treatment room.
And it is not only a physical consideration – the team consists of physiotherapists, conditioning coaches, podiatrists, psychiatrists, yoga practitioners, nutritionists and biomechanists.
The Black Country side has one of the most respected medical departments in the country and has invested more than £500,000 in the wider facilities, which include a hydrotherapy pool, an anti-gravity treadmill and GPS technology to monitor players’ fitness levels.
“We have a pretty good team with a good reputation,” Dr Gillett said.
“The chairman invests heavily in facilities and in the medical department. The aim is to punch above our weight for a club of our size, and to do that we have to get more out of our players and most of the time we manage it.
“We look after all aspects of their fitness – including how much they train, strength and conditioning, through to sports psychology.”
Several high-profile on-field incidents have highlighted the importance of football clubs’ medical facilities in recent years.
Perhaps the best-known is former Birmingham City player Fabrice Muamba, who suffered a cardiac arrest while playing in a televised match for Bolton Wanderers and had his life saved by quick-acting medical staff.
Elsewhere, Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech suffered a fractured skull in 2006.
But the lion’s share of the work is in preventative measures, and keeping players fit while struggling with injury, which is one of the benefits of anti-gravity equipment.
Dr Gillett said: “One of the things we have is a hydroworx treadmill, which means you can take a lot of the weight off, from your chin to your ankles.
“You can get people in there the day after their operation. We don’t always because sometimes that is not the best thing to do.
“You always want to keep them as fit as possible and make sure their joints are not compromised.
“If people have a knee issue, for example, we are worried about the muscles wasting, so often we do immersion training.”
Among Dr Gillett’s roles at the Albion is carrying out medicals on in-coming players.
With the club investing as much as £6 million on a single transfer fee – before giant Premier League wages are taken into account – the long-term health of the individual is key.
This can mean he is the one to deliver disappointing news about a signing, as he estimates about one in ten fail.
“I just have to do my job,” he said. “I am employed to give an honest opinion of whether that person is fit, and it is a yes, no or maybe.
“I say no probably 10 per cent of the time.”