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Tri mentality: Why you should take up triathlon in 2018


beach swim start

Around this time of year many contemplate starting a new hobby and join in something new. Starting in the sport of triathlon could be one of those New Year’s resolutions. You would be motivated to hear that there are a plethora of health advantages to beginning along this path. Take a look at a selection of benefits for joining up as a new triathlete.


Joining is a powerful thing. There are arguably few sporting communities like triathlon. The barriers to participation are few. You actually don’t need more than swim goggles, a borrowed bike, and a pair of shoes to participate. Because of the grass roots nature of where triathlon started the entire community is welcoming, supportive, and inspiring. Joining a new community in the form of your local triathlon club, office group, or charity team leads to what I call ‘Triple A’ benefits – Attachment, Affiliation, and Accountability. First, attachment is a term connected to British child psychiatrist John Bowlby who in the 1950-1960s defined it as a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” While he was talking about the specific bond between children and their caregiver, the concept can relate to adults. Triathlon facilitates getting your needs met through a lasting and meaningful connection to others. Second, affiliation brings in you sharing with others as an important aspect of our successful sporting culture in addition to attachment that recruits others to you. Third, being accountable to others increases your goal attainment like getting to the Master’s pool session, out on the icy roads for your group cyclo-cross workout, or onto the snowshoes for the team run in our crisp winter.

Physiological benefits

Of course people join triathlon for real physical benefits. You can get stronger and more effective muscles and a fitter cardiovascular system where you work your heart to benefit your activity efficiency and breathe hard to breathe easier as you increase your VO2 max improving performance. You stretch yourself physically to improve mobility, tensor health, and flexibility. You can use multi-sport to fine tune your proprioceptive skills, reduce over-use injuries seen often in single activity sports, and work complementary muscle groups. Starting into sport is daunting. Starting slow and with a sustained plan make it less so. It is fascinating to see just how putting one foot in front of the other for a few short runs a week can lead to a consistent enjoyment and physical benefit of being a runner. Combine that with swimming and biking and you really do have the option to use triathlon to round out a vast array of physiological benefits.


Some triathletes train and race in order to eat. Others eat and then feel exercise assists with weight management. Irrespective of where you might view yourself on that spectrum, triathletes eat a lot and they are into food. There are few sports that require such attention to eating for fuel than swim-bike-run. You have to eat to swim fast, fuel to cycle long, and hydrate properly to run swiftly. Pre-workout snacks, post-workout recovery bites, and in between real-life eating are a must. If you want to participate in a sport that can also enrich your cooking skills, triathlon is it. Even the least nutritionally conscious person changes their food awareness quotient through triathlon involvement. You can improve your physical and emotional health by being more deliberate in your eating, nutrition, and diet – all of which comes as a bonus to signing up for the world of triathlon.

Emotional benefits

I would be remiss if I didn’t also put a plug in for the varied mental health benefits of sport participation. While there are studies that point to participation within a group of others as the core ingredient to improved mood and well being, exercise also confers improved benefits through our neurochemical reward pathways. Sometimes feeling good after a swim work out is also about your sense of boosted self-esteem, your subjective satisfaction with giving your best, and attending to yourself with an activity you enjoy immensely. Sleep often improves with active sport participation. With better sleep comes improved cognitive functioning at work or improved coping reserves when faced with life’s next challenge. Triathlon can help you keep your mind and body sharp.

Take a risk – your choice, under your control, and time-limited – and consider joining the family that is triathlon in 2017. You may surprise yourself with all the benefits of membership! Happy New Year.

Dr. Chris Willer is a sport psychiatrist and an avid triathlete for the past 18 years.