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!


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!