You'd think fitness would be something of an obsession for former Olympic swimmer turned TV personality, Sharron Davies, but in an exclusive chat with Parentdish, she reveals a refreshingly sensible approach to diet and exercise, along with her top tips for encouraging youngsters to see fitness as an integral - and fun - part of life.'I'm just a busy working mum,' she tells me (fittingly enough whilst multi-tasking – chatting to me on the phone and queuing in the Post Office) 'And just like every other busy mum, I have to juggle.' Sharron's juggling is in the form of her TV commitments and her mummy-duties; she has three children, Elliott, 17 and Grace, 13, with athlete Derek Redmond and four-year-old Finley, from her marriage to airline pilot Tony Kingston, from whom she is now separated.
Finley was born after eight grueling rounds of IVF. 'He was such a wanted baby,' Sharron says, telling me how she suffered two miscarriages along the way, and had twice used donor eggs before finally falling pregnant with Finley (who is her biological child) at the age of 43.Three pregnancies will take their toll on any mum's body, and I asked Sharron what her recipe was for bouncing back after birth. 'It's very easy to allow weight to accumulate with each pregnancy,' she says, 'You're busy, and you are exhausted after having a baby, and it is easy to let the weight pile on. You have to be realistic though – we do tend to get ruled by what we see in the magazines and the newspapers.
'Hollywood stars with their dietitians and their exercise gurus – let me tell you, none of them ever look as good in real life as they do in the ads and on TV!
'But really, it's just a case of being sensible - in the past we were more or less encouraged to eat for two and put our feet up and do nothing, but attitudes are changing now. I swam 3000m a day during my first pregnancy - I wanted to put on 'baby', not lots of weight!'
Sharron says her pregnancy with Finley was no different to when she had her other children, despite being in her forties. 'Being an older mum has its advantages,' she says, 'Whether you are having your first baby in your 40s, or your second or third, you know what you want when you have a child a bit later - babies are desperately wanted by women who become pregnant in their 40s. In your 20s they can be a surprise and finances and circumstances can mean they are not as enjoyed.'Sharron had home births with her last two pregnancies and says she would have liked to have had one as a first time mum, too: 'Mums know their bodies better than anyone,' she says,
'But when you're a first time mum you tend to do as you are told, and once they start intervening it seems to snowball. Grace and Finley were both born at home and it was wonderful - I dealt with my contractions by leaning over the kitchen units! And by the time Finley came along, the other children were involved, which was important. They were all pretty long labours - 18, 16, 14 hours - if I'd kept going I might have got down to a decent length! But it was only ever the last hour which really hurt!'Despite sporting an enviable size 10, 10 and a half stone figure, Sharron says there was a time when she was three stone overweight – and it wasn't post pregnancy: 'I retired from swimming twice,' she explains, 'But the first time, at the age of 18, I rebelled. I was over-eating, not exercising. I put on on 3 stone and tried lots of silly diets to get rid of it. These days I am 10 and a half stone which is ideal for my body shape and height - I am 5' 11"– but obviously it fluctuates by 5 or 6 pounds, like it does with all women, but having gained a lot of weight in the past, I am very careful that food should not be what the day is about.' Energy is what food should be about, Sharron says, and over-indulging should be a treat.
'Eating out should be a treat, something to look forward to once a week with friends. I'm not fanatical though, and I believe in everything in moderation – except smoking – I am vehemently against that. But everything else is fine as a treat - my kids do go to McDonalds, for example, but only maybe once every 10 days – and Finley drinks milk and has fruit when he does.'Sharron tells me that along with good attitudes towards healthy eating, she wants her kids to grow up with sport being a regular, routine activity. 'Making it a normal part of family life is the best way to encourage them,' she says, but adding she is determined not to hot house them: 'It is so important that exercise does not become a chore. You don't want any associations with it not being fun. When I was young my life was very blinkered because of swimming - I was swimming every single day by nine or 10, and there was so much stuff I couldn't do because of the risk of injury.' Sharron is very keen on fitness routines the whole family can join in with:
'We've recently been given an X-box Kinect to play with, which is great – it's something we can all play together. I've always been anti games where kids sit and shoot – my 17-year-old son would spend plenty of time doing that given the opportunity, but there's something nice about games we can spend the evening in the living room doing together – even the little one. When I first tried it, I was surprised at how hard I had to work and how much fun it was.'However, Sharron was keen to express that games consoles should never be a replacement for outdoor play and sports: 'I would never say kids should not play school sport, or do activities outside in favour of computer games. I make sure my kids do a range of activities. And they want to – my son plays rugby, my daughter is actually at hockey right now, and Finley goes to swimming lessons and Tumble Tots, plus a little active music class. But the Xbox does allow us fun, family time together in an active way. And that's all part of my life and ethics, really, and part of being fit and healthy.' Inspiring children to get fit is something parents hold the key to, Sharron says, and setting our kids a good example is the best way to get them out and about and taking regular exercise. 'I try so hard to get parents to understand that children copy us,' she says, 'Whether we like it or not, and whether that's copying us eating crisps, shouting, swearing, whatever it is, they pick up on it and they emulate it. So we can use that in a positive way - if our children see us willingly going out for a bike ride, or enjoying a nice walk, then they will want to, too.' I ask Sharron what her top tip is for busy mums who want to get fit, really can't commit to going out to an exercise class, or joining a gym, perhaps because of financial or childcare constraints: 'I always recommend an exercise bike for busy mums,' she says, 'We always put ourselves last and once the kids are in bed, we're worn out and just want to flop on the sofa in front of the TV. But if you have a bike, you can try and get 45 minutes exercise in at the same time! Otherwise you'll just be sitting there with a glass of wine or doing nothing - you might as well get a bit of exercise in.'
And her best diet tip?
'Don't eat too late,' she says, 'I really believe that if you have a big meal after seven o'clock it just slows everything right down!'
Sharron Davies is an ambassador for Flora and Xbox Kinect. You can be in with a chance of winning one of 750 Kinects and Xbox bundles by picking up a promotional pack of Flora margarine in-store, or online via FaceBook