Learn What Quarterback Tom Brady’s Fitness Approach and Ornish Lifestyle Medicine Share
by Phil Hardesty
New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09
I can still see him—Tom Brady in the pocket picking apart the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, with complete command of the field. I grew up north of Pittsburgh, but even as he demolished my team I had to be impressed. At 39, Brady is on his way to win his fifth National Football League championship for the New England Patriots. He’s getting better each year, long after most quarterbacks quit.
In many ways, Tom Brady’s approach to fitness mirrors the Ornish exercise prescription
Brady has his own approach to total fitness, and I’m proud (but not surprised) it has a lot in common with Ornish Lifestyle Medicine. As a historic athlete, he’s methodical and disciplined, covering all the angles in a plan that emphasizes diet, rest, and self-awareness along with rigorous training.
A Plant-Based Diet
Brady, like Ornish participants, eats a plant-based diet for most of the year. A typical menu for him includes a smoothie with seeds, nuts, a banana and a scoop of protein power. We love smoothies in Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, and recommend this Green Smoothie With Papaya and Mint (See Menu 2 in our Ornish Kitchen Sample Menu.)
At both lunch and dinner, Brady always eats whole grains, greens and legumes. See our delicious “Mushroom Stroganoff” made with wholegrain pasta and “Arugula Salad with Beets and Oranges” on Sample Menu 2
Football stars are faster, bigger and stronger than ever. Yet Brady, the best of the pack, doesn’t pump iron. He relies on resistance bands, with high repetitions. He’s said that he values staying “pliable” as well as strong. Although his weight fluctuates during the year, he adjusts his diet and exercise to maintain a steady body weight and optimal fitness level. In many ways, Brady’s approach to fitness mirrors the Ornish exercise prescription. We encourage moderate intensity exercise, promote variety in exercise, and incorporate movements from yoga and stretching to keep the body flexible yet strong.
To emulate Brady, be your own quarterback, thinking through your fitness program and making changes when they’re needed. Like all pros, Brady tracks his performance and evaluates himself each day during training, and at the end of each off-season. In the past three years, his numbers have improved when he shows up for preseason tests.
While we may not track sprint speed or how high you can jump, in the Ornish program tracking our efforts with the four components of the program (fitness, stress management, nutrition, social support) is key to understanding where you’re having success and where you need more work. It provides us the opportunity to self-reflect and make adjustments where needed.
Yes, Brady works hard. If you think like a pro athlete, you too will work hard. (See Ornish Living article, Fitness that Works for Pro Athletes Can Also Work for You.) Getting and staying fit doesn’t feel easy—it feels worthwhile. Brady, however, understands that the mind affects the body. He regularly meditates, enjoys massages and prioritizes sleep.
In Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, we recommend a daily stress management practice that includes yoga and meditation. I can promise you that you’ll be happier if you balance meeting fitness goals with rest and stress management.
Even if you could care less about sports, Tom Brady’s example teaches us that we keep growing at any age. It’s never too late: You can pick up a fitness program in your 70s or 80s and reap benefits for your heart.
We all need to push ourselves a bit. In a classic study of male Harvard alumns using data collected when they were around the age of 57, those who engaged in moderate-intensity exercise were more likely to be alive fifteen years later. Exercise of greater intensity also boosted longevity. The lesson here is that “light” exercise didn’t do the job, and it’s never too late to start exercising. Challenge yourself more than your body is accustomed to and you will see results, no matter your age. Also, like Brady, remember to rest and manage your stress.