Switched On: our monthly blog from Gym Manager Roberta O'Brien

Roberta O'Brien is the SWITCH Gym Manager and a passionate advocate of the benefits of fitness, not just for physical health but also for mental health and because it's fun!

Roberta has been in the fitness industry for 10 years but has always been affiliated with local gyms and sport. She loves ocean swimming and running, particularly trail running. She has three children who enjoy a healthy lifestyle of predominantly surfing and dancing, and they enjoy fun and fitness together as a family.

In Roberta's monthly blog you'll find information, encouragement and inspiration.. Enjoy!


June: Above the neck symptoms get the green light

OVER the course of winter many clients have had lapsed periods of absences from exercise due to cold and flu symptoms. So far I have managed to swerve the dreaded flu in my household - there has been coughing, razor blade throats, sneezing, sniffles and even loss of voice. The kids, well they continue to surf and dance through colds - unless they experience real fatigue and energy loss.

I think being sensible is the best medicine. Some physical activity when you're sick is okay, but there are definitely times when exercise can make things worse. So when is it okay to exercise and when is it best to rest?

A "neck check” is a quick way to determine the severity of your situation. Isolate your symptoms and then proceed cautiously without overdoing it.

You can exercise safely when...

It's okay to exercise if your symptoms are from the neck up...for example you have a really sore throat. If you avoid elevating your heart rate and body temperature too much, physical activity shouldn't inhibit your ability to exercise safely and it shouldn't impede your recovery.

Thumbs up - green light symptoms

  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • sore throat

It's best to rest when...

So if your symptoms include a real chesty bonds cough and muscle aches, your body is screaming at you to stop and rest. Continuing to exercise with major cold symptoms will actually send you in reverse - you will feel worse, your health will deteriorate and you will slow down your recovery.

If you exercise with major symptoms your body will focus more on energy production and muscle function instead of fighting the illness. So ease up, listen to your body, and give yourself permission to not exercise.

Thumbs down - red light symptoms

  • coughing
  • fatigue and tiredness
  • congested or tight chest
  • chills
  • nausea or upset stomach
  • muscle aches
  • diarrhoea
  • high temperature/fever

Ease back into your exercise with caution - don't go too hard too soon. See how you feel and if your body responds well increase intensity and duration gradually.

My advice to clients is always ease your way back into exercise - great that you've turned up, but take your time and continue to listen to your body.

My son's voice is almost back to normal...unfortunately.

May: Byron Swim 50

The sisterhood, swimming and turning 50

I CELEBRATED 20 years of swimming the Byron Bay Ocean Swim Classic this year with my good friend Annie.

We know it's been 20years because we started the Byron Bay Ocean Swim Classic when her daughter Conor was nine months old - this year Conor turns 21.

Also another milestone for Annie - she hit the 50-55 Female category.

We talk a lot about the 'fullness' (we refuse to say busyness) of our lives with family and work, and how important it is to keep active and healthy as we age.

The other day we also came to the realisation that as we age and continue this 'full' lifestyle, the competitive edge to be good at everything dulls a little.

We acknowledge that participation can sometimes be enough.

In the years of our swimming together, who beat who has gone to and fro.

When Annie had babies, I seemed to have the edge on her, and then when it was my time to have children, Annie grabbed the baton and swam me down big time.

Now we are on a level playing field. Children are bigger, we both work hard, we enjoy downtime walking our dogs together and ocean swimming is like our religion.

We swim every Sunday. It's a combination of the purity of the water, the challenging conditions (shark fear, big swell, mid-winter freezing water) and the cleansing of our minds and souls when we are so present swimming with people and yet alone.

But it's even more than that, too.

Sounds quite crazy, but it is about the coffee after the swim and the sitting down with friends - like we have done for 20-odd years - and celebrating that Sunday morning awakening like no other.

Exercising with women in my age group is such a humbling and positive experience.

We can do what 20-year-olds do, sometimes better and faster... and sometimes not.

Most of all, staying healthy together gives us a sense of worth.

It keeps our social bonds alive and there is nothing like the strength and support of the 'sisterhood' to get you out of bed on Sunday morning.

April: Never too old to exercise - Seniors all welcome

I recently visited Caroona Kalina Nursing Home and bumped into the beautiful Jenny Dowel who was busily putting on her tap shoes to demonstrate to a room full of senior residents, that even whilst sitting in a chair, you can still enjoy the experience of moving to music.  No matter what your age, or ability, sometimes it just takes a little imagination and courage to try something different.

Every morning in Lennox Head a small group of senior men gather at a local coffee shop after their morning walk (rain, hail or shine) – they exchange laughter and chatter and stimulate their minds as they share a brains’ trust over a daily crossword.  They call themselves the ‘table of knowledge’.  Their daily routine allows them to benefit from both physical and social interaction, keeping them healthy mentally and physically.

Not all illness or pain is avoidable, but many of the physical challenges associated with aging can be overcome or at least diminished by exercising, eating right, and taking care of yourself.  Even if you don’t start exercising until your senior years, you can still add extra years to your life and more importantly add life to your years.

There are many valid reasons for slowing down and becoming more sedentary as you age; you may experience health problems, you may struggle with weight or pain issues, or you may worry about falling and injuring yourself. But it is for these very reasons that an active lifestyle is even more important to your health and well-being.  As you age, exercise can help you:

  • maintain strength and agility
  • increase vitality
  • improve sleep
  • boost mental health
  • diminish chronic pain
  • prevent memory loss, cognitive decline, and dementia.

Regular exercise will help you stay physically and mentally healthy and improve your confidence and overall outlook on life.  You’ll not only look better when you exercise, you’ll feel sharper, more energetic, and experience a greater sense of well-being.

What to do?

  1. Check with your doctor to see if any health conditions or medications you take affect the type of exercise you should choose.
  2. Choose an activity you like and that will keep you motivated. You may like to exercise in a group like aqua aerobics or you may prefer solo exercise like swimming.
  3. Start slowly, especially if you are new to exercise.  Slowly increase the time and intensity to avoid potential injury.  Watch out exercise can be addictive.
  4. Start with the basics like walking.  Walking is one of the best ways to stay fit, and you don’t need any fancy equipment, clothing or money – just time.
  5. Exercise with a friend or family member to keep each motivated, accountable and social.

There are lots of activities this week that you can join in as we celebrate Seniors Week across the state…be adventurous and try something you haven’t done before…an aqua class, stretching, dancing, swimming – do it with a friend and have a laugh.  No amount of botox would ever replace your roadmap of years of laughter lines.

March: Heat and Exercise

Exercising in the heat…be cool and sensible.

Have you ever driven past someone running out on the road with heat steaming up from the bitumen, in the middle of the day and thought ‘man you are crazy!’. Well the other day that was me and my Samson team mates.  We are in training for the ‘Our Kids Samson Challenge’ and the only time we are able to train together is in the middle of the day on a Monday.  So in keeping safe, we have taken a few precautions to make sure we are not over stressing our bodies in this heat. 

  • The workout is a maximum 30 minutes.
  • The session finishes with a swim in the pool (part of Samson training anyway).
  • We wear loose clothing.
  • We drink plenty of water during the workout – to avoid dehydration.  The fluids helps us sweat and cool down.
  • We factor in recovery and breaks.
  • No more running out on the road – we are keeping the running to short shuttle runs in the stadium.

Other ways you could keep exercising in this heat and stay safe, is to:

  • Avoid the midday sun – train early morning or late afternoon.
  • Have a back-up plan – maybe train indoors at a gym – you can get back outside in the cooler months.
  • Know your fitness level – if you are new to exercise, start gradually and build your fitness level and dial up intensity as you feel fitter.
  • Watch out for weather alerts and extreme heat warnings.
  • Wear sunscreen if you are outside.
  • Understand your medical risks – certain medical conditions or medications can increase your risk of a heart-related illness.  Talk to your doctor about precautions.

Being committed to your health and fitness during these hot months is fantastic, but if you happen to experience any of the following heat-related signs and symptoms, please back off your workout…

  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Sweating extensively
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Visual problems

If you develop any of these symptoms, you need to stop exercising immediately and get out of the heat, so that you can lower your body temperature and get hydrated.  It’s simple really…stay safe when exercising in the heat by drinking enough fluids, wearing proper clothing and timing your workout to avoid extreme heat.  So I guess that means I have to keep flipping tyres and pushing that dreaded prowler…aaagh!

February: Must Balance Energy In and Out

OBESITY is literally bursting the seams of Australians' clothing. My Pop was a big man, obese even. He drank beer and smoked and did less and less exercise as he grew older. He was happy in his big freckly skin and we loved him just the way he was. But we would have loved the chance to love him for longer than his 79 years. And for me that really is the plain truth about being overweight and obese. Guaranteed, your life will be shorter.

Did you know...

  • Seven in 10 Australian men are overweight or obese
  • One in two women are overweight or obese
  • One in four children are overweight or obese
  • 10% more adults are obese than in 1995
  • 15% more people living in regional areas are overweightthan those living in cities
  • More women living in areas of disadvantage are overweight than those in areas of least disadvantage - no difference in men.

The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn't shorter-term dietary changes, it's about practising a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity. We certainly don't have to strive for model-like or athletic physiques, but we can attempt to house our body in a physique that is strong and one that repels health problems like cardiovascular disease (which ultimately took my Pop) including high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnoea, depression and asthma - just some of the many stigmas related to being overweight and obese. Maintaining your weight means balancing the energy going into your body (as food and drink) and the energy being used for growth and repair, for physical activity, and to keep your bodily functions working.

But no matter how many BodyPump, BodyAttack, RPM or GRIT classes you do, your weight control will always be compromised and challenged if you put more energy into your body than what you push out of your body during these classes. It's as simple as an excess energy intake, even a small amount over a long period of time will cause weight gain.

I understand it's harder for overweight people to move. Overweight people experience more stress on their joints and bones, which can lead to injuries, which means they need to rest, which means they are back to square one...not moving, but still eating. I see my personal training clients train hard. What I don't see is the energy they consume at home. I understand that overweight people lack self-esteem and confidence, which makes it hard for them to join a gym or a group fitness class. But I also see that most human beings are empathetic and will responsively support and encourage people who are struggling with their weight.

  • Focus on portion size. You don't have to finish everything on your plate. Children's portion sizes should be smaller than those for adults. Cutting back on portion size will help you balance energy in and energy out. Be active. Make personal and family time active. Find activities that everyone will enjoy. Reduce screen time. Limit the use of TVs, computers, DVDs, and video games because they limit time for physical activity. Health experts recommend two hours or fewer a day of screen time that's not work- or homework-related.

Make it your goal to decrease weight steadily so that you are changing long-term lifestyle behaviours. Fat cells hang around for a long time and have good memory recall...so sometimes the hardest thing is to keep the weight off. Balance is key. This information wasn't around for my Pop...but it is for me and my children.


January: Dance like nobody's watching

GAYLE at 73 years of age, can still do the splits. She has danced and exercised all her life for fitness and fun. She has been through all the fads, leg warmers, headbands, g-string leotards, hot pants, crop tops and more. Gayle didn't make my stretch class last Tuesday Melbourne Cup day as she was "too busy boogying with Lisa Hunt” at the top pub in Byron.

The boys in my family surf, whereas my daughter Mattaya and I...well we like to dance. Like Mattaya, I danced from a very early - mainly ballet and jazz back. These days Mattaya does it all jazz, ballet, hip hop, contemporary, lyrical, heels, musical theatre and tap dancing. I marvel at what Mattaya can do at 14 years of age as my sister and I never really got past the old 'step ball change' at jazz. For her dance is not incidental fitness, dance is fitness. Dance offers her core, flexibility, posture, strength, balance and aerobic fitness...all my different exercise disciplines rolled into one. I love seeing how dance makes her feel - and watching her makes me feel extremely happy! Whatever your skill level or training background, you don't have to be experienced or professional to enjoy a dance class. BodyJam, Zumba, Sh'Bam are pre-choreographed dance classes to music and there is also Salsa, Burlesque, Pole Dancing, Capeira. The benefits of these classes are not just about the calorie burn, toning and increased fitness. More importantly these classes guarantee you a giggle, smile and a big hit of endorphins. I did a Zumba class recently for a group of Year 9 girls preparing for their belonging camp. What I loved was the girls' ability to have fun and smile while doing simple, sometimes cheesy dance moves.

A new craze ready to hit this region is called Pound - the world's first cardio jam session inspired by the infectious, energising and sweat dripping fun of playing the drums. The world would definitely be a better place if we all danced more, don't you agree?