Given half the chance, most women would love to look, and feel, like TV3 star Louise Quinn. With her toned form and easy passion for health and wellbeing, it’s no surprise that the 35-year-old has been dubbed ‘Ireland’s fittest mum’.
Turning to fitness to help cope with depression and grief (after she lost her five-week-old baby, Ashton), Louise now competes in international fitness competitions and has made a career out of fitness.
But making her enviable figure her fortune hasn’t come easily; in fact, it takes daily workouts for Louise to look and feel that good. Still, Louise insists that women don’t need to spend hours in the gym to get a body like hers.
“I’m a mum, a businesswoman and a fitness model, so I don’t have hours to spend in the gym,” she is quoted as saying.
“About 45 minutes is enough time to get a good workout at the gym. If you can’t get to a gym, you can do it at home.
“There are loads of workouts that you can look up online or you can simply get outside the house and go for a walk.
“I think that 45 minutes out of a 24-hour day is nothing to get yourself in shape.”
Words of wisdom, indeed… but does this simple fact ring true for regular Irish mums?
It’s easy to see why celebrity trainers, Instagram ‘fitspo’ stars and celebrities will find the time to train. After all, their fit figures are their fortunes.
Model and mum-of-one Aoife Cogan loves Pilates so much that she opened a studio with her rugby-player husband Gordon D’Arcy. Similarly, fellow rugby WAG Amy Huberman is also a fan of reformer Pilates, and Jennifer Zamparelli (nee Maguire) was keen to hit the gym after her young daughter Florence was born, although she was quick to stress that exercising for 40 minutes was as much about decompressing and maintaining energy as it was about keeping in shape.
But what of the Irish mum who doesn’t have a slew of fitness experts to hand, or for that matter the motivation to squeeze into a dress for a photocall or premiere?
As wives, partners, parents, employees, bosses and home-runners, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that many Irish women put themselves last on the list. And in the great juggling act that all working mums master, fitness is usually the first to go.
Aine Baker, a freelance media professional and blogger (at thebakerfarm.blogspot.ie) based in Clonakilty, is only now contemplating a return to fitness after having three children: Maisie (5), George (4) and Tessa (2).
“My fitness levels at the moment are pretty non-existent,” she explains. “Apart from the workouts I get from running around after the kids or going on weekend hikes or to the beach, I’ve probably never been as unfit in my life. There’s definitely room for improvement and I’ve decided this week, after one pastry too many at breakfast during our holidays, that I really need to do something about my awful diet and my lack of exercise. At the moment, exercise isn’t built into my routine at all.”
Many mothers often manage to incorporate some level of activity into their day; while Aine moves about plenty with her children, there is certainly room for improvement.
“I work from home, so the mornings, when the kids are at school and pre-school, are jammed with work stuff,” she reveals. “In the afternoons, until my husband gets home, I’m with the kids and doing things like making dinner and doing fun stuff like the laundry. Then, when he gets home, I’ll pick up on more work and I’m often burning the midnight oil.
“I could get up early and exercise before the kids get up but my sleep is precious to me. The youngest still doesn’t sleep through the night, so I take every wink I can get. As the weather improves, I’m hoping to do more school pick-ups on foot rather than relying on the car so much. But I’m also signing up to fitness classes three days a week. I have to fit it in because otherwise, things will just continue as they are.
“As a rule, I definitely think women find it harder to make time for things like fitness — or anything involving themselves really. In my case, there’s always something going on at home that demands my attention. My husband finds it much easier to switch off from what needs to be done at home to take time to go to the gym or go for a run or whatever else. It’s a good thing. At the end of the day, nothing is that important that it can’t wait for a bit — I need to take a leaf out of his book.”
It hasn’t always been this way; before children, Aine prided herself on a fitness regime that meant five weekly visits to the gym.
“I loved it and it gave me so much energy. I also used to walk everywhere. At one point, I was living in Rathmines and working on the North Circular Road and I walked the 45 minutes to work every day, come rain or shine,” she says. “Nowadays, I use any excuse not to get up off my a*se but it’s just pure habit and laziness. If I really wanted it, I would do it, and I’m getting my motivation back now, thankfully. Starting will be the hard part.”
Terenure-based Anne Costello, who works as an office administrator for a finance company, learned to tackle the habit issue a long time ago. When her son Ryan, now 16, was four months old, Anne ran the mini marathon. But now that her children are older (her daughter Anna is 15), she admits that she is fitter now than she ever has been.
These days, she goes to the Pat Henry Wellness gym near her office, three times a week, and does aerobics classes and weight lifting.
“I don’t find it difficult, but you have to be well organised,” she warns. “Getting there during the day is the key. As a parent, anything can happen in the evenings. Going during your lunch hour just means that it’s part of your day. Once you get used to it, it becomes part of your life, and if I don’t get to the gym, I miss it. I wouldn’t have it any other way. A lot of it has to do with the mind and getting head space. I feel so much better after it.”
In addition to her gym visits, Anne is back in training for marathon running. It helps that her children are also fitness fans.
“My son is in the gym a lot, I think a lot of boys his age are into that, while my daughter is a bit stressed because of exams. The odd evening, I’ll drag her around for a 5k, and while she’s not enamoured with the idea, she certainly feels a lot better when she gets back.”
Previously, when her children were younger, Anne had to find other ways of slipping fitness into the day: “I’d have done a huge amount of walking,” she recalls. “I’d park my car a mile and a half away from work and walk in and out.”
While Anne has keeping fit and healthy down to a fine art, she concedes that many other Irish mums find it a tougher slog.
“I’d have a lot of friends don’t do anything (fitness-wise), and don’t feel the need to have to do it,” she says. “I guess they don’t think it’s a serious issue or one that affects them until their health deteriorates. I’m on the other side, where I think that 150 minutes of exercise a week is the least I can do.
“I guess everyone has the same amount of time. It’s just a matter of making the time. If you can’t afford to give yourself 30 minutes of ‘me-time’, it’s time to have a rethink.”
Pat Henry’s fitness centre is at 14 Pembroke Street Lower, Dublin 2. See www.pathenrywellness.com