20 Questions on Health & Fitness: Dame Mary Peters

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: Olympic gold medallist, Dame Mary Peters

Mary Peters pictured at the official re-opening of the Mary Peters Track. Picture by Hugh Russell
Gail Bell

1) Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I wake at 8am and switch on breakfast television and then have breakfast in bed before I dress and go for a three-mile walk on a hilly course.

2) What might you eat in a typical working day for…


I take freshly squeezed orange juice or carrot, apple and ginger juiced. I will also have brown toast and banana, followed by a latte coffee.


For lunch I might have home-made soup – my favourite is courgette and mint or a salad.

Evening meal?

My evening meal consists of meat, eggs, cheese or fish with vegetables, followed by a fruit salad or yoghurt.

3) Is nutrition important to you?

I like a balanced diet, so yes, nutrition is important to me. Having trained as a domestic science teacher and, speaking as a former athlete, I know that the food we eat is the fuel we need to perform well.

4) Are you a calorie counter?

No, I have always just eaten a balanced diet, but I rarely eat deserts. I am always saying, 'No thank you' to them, but recently I was in a restaurant and a beautiful bowl of fruit salad arrived and I was happy to tuck in.

I didn't have any cream though. It amazes me when I seem men getting stuck into big blobs of cream and it never seems to go anywhere near their hips.

5) Best meal ever?

A seafood platter in Barnacle Bill's Seafood Inn in Cairns, north Queensland, Australia – yummy.

6) Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I like liver and bacon (crispy) with champ and onions.

7) Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

Off and on, I reduce my intake and always have an alcohol-free month in January when I usually lose a few pounds.

8) Do you take health supplements?

Yes, I take multivitamins, silica to strengthen nails and lyprinol which contains marine lipids and Omega 3, and Glucosamine Chondroitin for my knees.

9) Teetotal or tipple?

I enjoy a gin and tonic and I like wine with meals.

10) Fruit or fry-up?

Fruit, especially raspberries.

11) Stairs or lift?

I choose the stairs – they are a good way to get the heart pumping and the stepping is also good to keep hips and thighs firm.

12) Do you have a daily exercise regime?

My exercise regime, if I'm at home, is walking three miles per day over hills. Having been an Olympic athlete, I have done regular exercise since the age of 16.

At the height of my Olympic career I would train every day, either in the gym with heavy weights, or outside running in the rain, hail or snow – whatever the Northern Ireland weather threw at me.

I remember once doing the high jump by myself in the snow at the Mary Peter's Track and having to move the equipment when the snowfall became heavy. It was a lot of unscheduled exercise, dragging the poles and mattress one by one, over to the pavilion on the other side of the track.

My hands were so cold afterwards that I couldn't close the door of the building and had to run to get help from the caretaker who was over a mile away.

When you're standing on the podium getting a medal, no-one knows of those moments but you.

13) On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are; how fit would you like to be?

For my age, I'd say 9 out of 10.

14) Best tip for everyday fitness?

Walking or swimming is ideal to maintain fitness on a daily basis. And both are inexpensive.

15) Do you have a memory from school sport / PE days you would rather forget?

I would rather forget playing cricket – very badly. It led the headmaster to introduce me to an athletic coach instead.

16) Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

No, I have been lucky to always have been fit and healthy.

17) Best health advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

My mum always said, "Early to bed, early to rise will make Mary healthy, wealthy (I wish) and wise". Sleep is important for a healthy body and mind.

18) Who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

All our Olympic competitors from London and Rio are great role models. I especially admire Jessica Ennis-Hill who not only is a fine athlete, but a lovely human being as well.

She will doubtless have inspired a whole new generation of multi-discipline athletes. I also admire British rower Katherine Grainger – and all Olympic rowers, who go out early each morning on the river to train – and of course, our own Paralympic champion, Bethany Firth from Seaforde who came home from Rio with three gold medals and a silver.

19) What time do you get to bed normally and do you think you get enough sleep?

I like to have eight hours sleep, so I'm usually in bed by 10.30pm, although I'll read or watch some television before I fall asleep.

20) Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I like to think I have – I still wake up feeling good. I can't imagine the alternative.


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