23 April 2021

New AIS initiative sparks an important conversation around female health

| Lottie Twyford
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Laura Peel holding medal and trophy

Two-time freestyle skiing world champion Laura Peel is a supporter of the AIS Female Performance and Health Initiative. Photo: Laura Peel Instagram.

Elite athletes say it’s time for female health and its relationship with sports performance to be addressed.

And the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) agrees, launching its Female Performance and Health Initiative (FPHI), which is currently available as an online module.

Two-time freestyle aerial skiing world champion Laura Peel says conversations around female health and sports performance will have a huge impact on the future success and wellbeing of female athletes.

Ms Peel spoke at a recent webinar held to launch FPHI, and said she believes it’s important that female health is viewed as something that can help an athlete’s performance, rather than hinder it.

The AIS has entered into partnership with experts on the subject, as well as high-performance athletes and coaches to develop the suite of online learning modules that comprise FPHI.

Currently, there are seven modules available on the AIS website which focus on the menstrual cycle, menstrual abnormalities, puberty and hormonal contraception – topics Ms Peel admits she has spent little time examining during her sporting career.

“Elite athletes spend so much time, energy, effort and even money trying to find that edge – that one per cent,” she said.

“But we have this entire part of ourselves that has more or less been left untapped. As an athlete, I have never considered that female health considerations may help me in my performance, and I don’t know of many others who have done so.”

The modules also explore topics that female athletes may not have considered important, such as breast health and bra fit.

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The program is led by the chief medical officer of Paralympics Australia and Water Polo Australia, Dr Rachel Harris, who says it’s crucial that conversations about female health become commonplace among athletes, coaches and medical professionals.

“The AIS FPHI was developed as a result of overwhelming need in the Australian high-performance sport environment for better support and management of our female athletes,” she said.

“Overwhelmingly, we heard athletes and coaches were unsure where to go for relevant information, and we have tried to make the FPHI website a one-stop shop.

“The aim is to assist athletes understand that these issues are normal and that it’s OK to ask for help.”

Dr Harris hopes the normalisation of these subjects will encourage future athletes to understand their unique physiology and to initiate and engage in conversations about it.

A second phase of the FPHI coaching and medical practitioner modules will be released later this year as they seek to expand into further topics, including pelvic floor health and relative energy deficiency.

If you’d like to learn more about the Female Performance and Health Initiative, visit the AIS website. A full recording of the FPHI webinar is also available to view online.

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