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You’ve reached the finish line. Now what? A retired Olympian’s tips for lifelong fitness

Health Advisor is a regular column where contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging. Follow us @Globe_Health.

As I sat relaxed with a coffee in hand watching all of the amazing winter athletes at this year's Olympic and Paralympic Games, it brought back memories of my career as competitor. Having competed in four Games myself, I know how much work goes into getting there – that ultimate goal of standing on a podium representing your country. It's one of the hardest things to do, both physically and mentally, and when it's over – no matter where you placed – there is an interesting comedown. Something you've been working toward for so long is now passed and the question is, now what?

For a lot of athletes, it simply means going forward to the next competition, a continuation in a long career. But for some, it might be the last significant moment in a career. So many of us use the Olympics as a final goal, a way to punctuate the end of something we've been working toward and then get lost with what to do afterward.

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As someone who competed for a living, I was fortunate to have had people around me who I could turn to for advice when going from one goal to another, but it made me wonder about other athletes, the kind who don't have a support team or who compete at elite, professional levels. I started to think about everyday athletes – the ones who take on personal challenges and set goals while still living and working in different careers.

Maybe it's a challenge to complete a 10K, or a goal of competing in a marathon, or simply making sure they do something active every day for two weeks. Whatever it is, I believe there are similarities between the experience that elite athletes and everyday athletes have after achieving their goals.

While I'm definitely not a coach or a personal trainer, I have been privy to a lot that kind of thing. One of the biggest challenges I see people have after reaching a goal is maintaining afterward. So you finished the 10K – now what? I think there is a part in all of us that wants to reward ourselves – and I'm 100 per cent for that. You should be proud and feel good about rewarding yourself after reaching a goal.

The challenge is to not slip back into old patterns and lose all the ground you made during your time working toward your individual success. It's a psychological game. A lot of people, after having worked so hard to get to their goal, see maintaining in the long-term as a serious grind so they put back the weight or slide back into being a couch potato.

So what do can you do?

My personal perspective is that you need to go easy on yourself mentally. Poor workout? Live to fight another day. Fitness, health and long-term happiness depend on consistency over time. Life is long and you'll have plenty more opportunity to hit your mark. The other thing you can do is recalibrate your goals.

Often, especially after a specific, intense goal, people believe they need to stay at that level, which isn't always realistic. I don't train remotely as hard as I used to because my goals are different now, but in a lot of ways I feel stronger. It's just different.

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I have made sure to block physical activities into my day, but I don't beat myself up if something happens and I need to either shorten or adjust my workout. And I'm also happy to do something completely different (as an example, I played dodgeball this weekend with friends – might go pro with that).

You should try to find a balance so your workouts don't become a life stress that eventually leads to you giving up completely. And when you next decide to take on a more intense goal, you can just readjust, knowing that afterward you'll be able to reward yourself and keep up all that you've achieved.

Simon Whitfield is the Director of Sports with the Fantan Group in Victoria, B.C. Until recently he was better known for moving quickly in a Speedo, carrying the flag in London, and winning medals at the Olympic Games. Outside the office, the day finds him paddle boarding off the coast of Victoria, partnering with Triton Triathlon, Velofix, and Champion System, and dancing with his two girls. Follow him on Twitter @simonwhitfield.

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