Monday 20 November 2017

Vivienne Connolly: 'You don't have to be extreme, just get up and move'

Fitness fanatic Vivienne Connolly is in a race against time to educate her kids on the benefits of nutrition and exercise, before they get sucked into a sugar rush

Vivienne Connolly, her son Ben (11), and daughter Katie (8) train for the Great Pink Run for Breast Cancer Ireland in the Phoenix Park. Photo: Arthur Carron
Vivienne Connolly, her son Ben (11), and daughter Katie (8) train for the Great Pink Run for Breast Cancer Ireland in the Phoenix Park. Photo: Arthur Carron

Ailin Quinlan

There are times, says model and actress Vivienne Connolly, when she can almost feel her children wishing she'd just stop talking about sugar... and fibre, and special child-friendly marketing, and the stuff on the back of the packet. But, Connolly confesses, she just can't.

"I'm a big advocate of fitness and nutrition," explains the former Fair City actress and qualified fitness instructor, who's currently training to participate in The Great Pink Run 2015 in the Phoenix Park later this summer.

"When I was younger I did running, swimming and Irish dancing. I also trained in the gym with Pat Henry - in modelling you have to be fit and toned and the nutrition side of things is also very important to me.

"Sometimes I feel as if the kids are wishing I'd just shut up about it because I'm talking to them about fibre, and explaining about the sugars in this and that.

"I talk to them about how the marketing industry tries to rope children into eating sweet cereals, and how they make the packaging child-friendly, because once they have the child market, they then expect to have them for life, as they're sucked into a cycle of sugar.

"People say things like 'pay the farmer now or pay the doctor later'," says Connolly, who's an advocate of that mind-set, but believes, as with all else in life, a healthy diet is a case of everything in moderation.

Therefore while she doesn't have a deep-fat fryer in the kitchen, neither does she ban treats, so Ben (11) and Katie (8) enjoy sweets now and again as well as the occasional fast-food meal.

"I'm a firm believer in good nutrition - the kids have a burger and chips the odd time and they get sweets now and again, but they eat well."

Mornings in the Vivienne Connolly household, however, are generally pretty healthy.

"I'll have my porridge with berries and nuts," Vivienne explains, while Ben will usually have either Weetabix or porridge. Katie opts for Shredded Wheat or toasted brown bread.

School lunches too are tasty but no-nonsense fare - McCambridge brown bread is a big favourite teamed with fresh ham and cucumber, while the children are big fruit eaters; apples, grapes and bananas regularly help to fill out their lunch boxes.

Vivienne herself enjoys a pitta pocket crammed with olive oil, pumpkin seeds and some salmon or egg with a bit of mustard to give it a kick.

"It's delicious - it looks like a big burger," she reveals.

In the evenings, says the 42-year-old, the family sit down together for dinner.

"I was brought up with the family meal and we have that. I make sure the TV is off, because once or twice it was on and I found the kids were in a different zone."

Dinner is a traditional healthy plate of meat and vegetables eaten at the family table. Broccoli with pine nuts and garlic is a particular favourite, and Vivienne is planning to introduce chick-peas to the kids - they already eat a lot of garlic, brown rice and brown pasta, she says.

While she generally eats dinner with the children, Vivienne tends to forgo the carbohydrate in the evening, substituting a big salad for spuds, rice or pasta.

"Generally I'd have fish on top of salad or if I do spaghetti bolognese, it would be the bolognese on top of the salad.

They're an active family to say the least - Vivienne exercises most days, and has done more than her share of 5k and 10k runs. Ben plays hurling, football, soccer, tennis and also enjoys running and swimming, while Katie does Irish dancing, basketball and swimming and wants to start running.

"I've said that in September maybe she can join a running club," says Vivienne, who says she makes a point of setting exercise goals for herself every year.

This year, she says, she decided that one of those goals was to do a 5k run.

She asked Ben and Katie if they'd be interested. Ben was immediately up for it and Katie is considering the offer - meanwhile it seemed like fate to Vivienne when the invitation to participate in The Great Pink Run 2015 with Avonmore Slimline Milk arrived in the post.

The event, which takes place on Saturday August 29 at the Phoenix Park is a hugely popular annual fundraiser for breast cancer, and features some well-known sporting faces, including Sonia O'Sullivan.

Now in its fifth year with a chipped 10k challenge for those with a competitive streak, and a 5k Family Fun Run, the Pink Run annually attracts thousands of entrants. Participants come from all over the country, travelling to Dublin from Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Belfast and Donegal for the event.

Others travel from as far afield as Brussels, Germany and Boston in the United States, to show support for friends or family affected by the condition. Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women in the developing world with one in 10 developing the condition throughout their lifetime - and some 2,400 new cases diagnosed each year.

Pink Run funds go to Breast Cancer Ireland, a registered charity which raises funds for pioneering breast cancer research and awareness in Ireland.

"Everyone knows someone affected by Breast Cancer and The Great Pink Run is a super opportunity for families to show their support, confident in the knowledge that they are helping our overall goal of transforming breast cancer, through research, from often being a fatal disease to a treatable long-term illness," says Aisling Hurley, CEO of Breast Cancer Ireland.

Vivienne and Ben are really looking forward to the big day:

"I've done 10k runs and a mini-marathon. I've no interest in full marathons per se, but I love a 5k or a 10k run," says Vivienne, who believes that full-on marathons can have an adverse effect on the body, particularly the knees and back.

"It's all that pounding on a hard surface," she says, revealing that she has always had a great fitness role model in her own mother who has walked all her life.

"Mum's in great shape; she walks for 45 minutes every day.

"You don't have to be extreme about fitness. I believe consistency is the key - it's really about just getting up and moving five out of six days.

Together Vivienne and Ben they'll do a combination of walking and jogging - Vivienne herself is already in training for the big day, vowing to keep up the daily exercise during the forthcoming month-long family holiday in Marbella in July.

She's currently exercising several times a week - sometimes three or four, sometimes five or six days, depending on her motivation.

"At the moment I'm out walking or jogging in the park, and if I feel I need to, I'll do a few squats or lunges."

She's a fan of the gym - weights are great for speeding up the metabolism she says: "If you do weights twice a week it'll speed up your metabolism.

"Your muscles are burning fat even after you stop weight training and it's important to do some weights because they're so good for the bingo wings and the tummy area!

"We're going to Marbella for a month in July with my mum and I intend to exercise every day during the holiday to get into training for the Pink Run.

"It's great motivation. I'm really looking forward to doing it with Ben next August - and I hope Katie will do it too!"

The Breast Cancer Ireland Great Pink Run with Avonmore Slimline Milk takes place at the Phoenix Park, Dublin on August 29, in support of Breast Cancer Ireland and the Race for a Cure. Register at before July 31 to benefit from an early bird rate of €20.

Expert Running tips for kids

Encouraging children to take up running as a hobby from an early age is one of the most positive things you can do to help develop their physical and mental health. Regular running, or any other physical activity, established from childhood, forms a habit that will help young people through those adolescent years

One of the main benefits of choosing running over other sports is the flexibility and the low entry cost - it is also a way for parents to spend time with their children

Children do not have the negative life experiences that adults have so when you ask them to run for five minutes they do it - it doesn't occur to them that they may not be able to. The key thing is to set achievable targets for them when they are starting out and give them lots of praise.

Tips for children starting out running:

Start running or walking slowly, and always warm up with light stretches and a few minutes walking before starting into the run

Do the same at the end - walk for a few more minutes and stretch before relaxing. Don't let children run too fast, encourage them to pace themselves

Chat with them while they are running with you - if they can talk while they are running they are going at a comfortable pace, if they can't talk, then slow right down to a fast walk until they have their breathing under control and slowly build up speed again. Mastering the art of breathing while running is the key to enjoying the sport at any age

Remember to keep hydrated at all times before during and after the race

- Ray O'Connor, multi marathon and ultra runner, see

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