Fit for life
For families who want to become healthier and more active the key is to make it fun, rugby star Donncha O'Callaghan tells Claire O'Mahony
After an impressive 20-year career, Donncha O'Callaghan recently announced his retirement from professional rugby. While he revealed that he's in no rush to decide what his next career move might be, he plans to spend more quality time with his family.
O'Callaghan and his wife, Jenny, have four children: Sophie (7), Anna (5), Robin (4) and Jake (2). As a father of young kids, the fact that four out of five Irish children don't get the recommended 60 minutes of exercise a day, while also struggling with healthy eating, disturbs him hugely. It's why he's an ambassador for Centra's Live Well programme - free-to-sign-up-to online 12-week plans devised by fitness expert Pat Divily with O'Callaghan's assistance, which can be done anywhere and include weekly wellbeing tips, healthy recipes and daily step challenges.
"For me the main reason to get involved was because I love the message they're bringing, because it's not preachy and it's all set on sound advice as opposed to anything faddy," he says. "There's a very faddy environment within the health and fitness industry and what I like about Live Well is that it's clean and what I call 'big rock solid foundations' of what are the kernels of health, fitness, living well, healthy tips, setting goals and mindset stuff. I like the programme as well because it's good craic. It's not your drill sergeant bootcamp stuff, it's fun and it's practical."
That exercise can be enjoyable is a message that O'Callaghan is especially keen to get across. "I see people putting up posts saying 'I just did a really difficult session and it made me sick'. That's professional sports stuff. Go play Red Rover or Stuck in the Mud. I looked like some twit last Sunday up in Ballinlough Park trying to crawl under my four-year-old's legs to release her from Stuck in the Mud but it's just brilliant craic."
He also thinks that children need strong role models. "If they see you coming in after exercising or running or even just being out for a walk, that's a positive message for them to see." Planning for him is also key. This might mean sitting down for 20 minutes on a Sunday night and seeing that you're travelling somewhere on Wednesday, and to schedule in bringing a packed lunch and healthy snacks for the car trip.
He's conscious that although his children are quite young, this is the age when trends are set for their rest of their lives. "It's just encouraging them to be active and eating well. I'm not talking about ridiculous dietary food or counting calories but even a small thing like knowing what a treat is. A bag of crisps or bar or something is a treat and they can enjoy it. I'm not saying I'm making pizza bases out of sweet potatoes but when you have a treat absolutely enjoy it, but make sure that you know it's a treat."
While he wouldn't be concerned as to whether or not his children get into sports, he does want them to realise that being healthy is a completely another issue. "I don't mind if they want to play camogie for Cork or rugby for Munster or whatever they decide to do, but I actually think an hour of exercise in the day for young kids, it's not enough."
And, with three daughters, the fact that girls tend to drop out of sports is one for concern. "One thing I have to watch is my little girl said to me, 'girls don't play soccer', and I said, absolutely girls play soccer and they're brilliant at it. You need to have positive role models and it's brilliant to see the likes of Katie Taylor, Derval O' Rourke and Sonia O'Sullivan but we need more people like that they can look to."
Another key reason for his involvement with Live Well is that he feels that it's not judgemental or designed to make people feel bad.
"It's for every level and every age and you can do it with your family. It's just a bit of fun that will help people out and that's what people want.
"You can do it anywhere with no equipment and I think sometimes people think, 'if I don't have the best bike, I can't go cycling'."
And, he feels, it's about what it can do for you mentally as much as physically. "I train every day but sometimes I go out in the evenings to have a walk and just clear my head and I think more emphasis needs to be put on that."