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'My dad died from an undiagnosed heart condition … I found out I have it too'

Aly Harte

The 35-year-old artist lives in Belfast with her husband Michael (38) and their three sons Elijah (8), Tobias (6) and Abraham (2). Originally from Boardmills, Co Down, the creativity expert educates budding artists and inspires others with her blog focusing on self-acceptance, her love of fitness and experiences of mental health and loss. Her first solo exhibition, Figures, Flowers and LA, opens at Canvas Galleries, Stranmillis, Belfast, this Thursday at 7pm.

Do you take regular exercise and if so, what?

I begin with a 6.30am workout as it starts my day right. As well as the body benefits of being physically strong, it benefits my well-being, it's food for my soul and I moderate the workout to how my body feels.

I believe variety is the spice of life so my workouts range from cardio, strength training, weight training and yoga.

I also love to swim and take reformer Pilates classes.

My usual workout lasts an hour and then it's home to get my boys up and out to school or at the weekend it's usually home, breakfasts for everyone and then we'll all take the dog out for a walk or I'll go into the studio and start painting.

What's the worst illness you have had?

My dad passed away when I was seven with an undiagnosed heart condition, and when I was hospitalised for pneumonia just a few years ago, it was discovered that I had the same heart condition as he had (a leaking valve).

Although I've always played netball and swam, the diagnosis led me to begin taking fitness and well-being more seriously. The condition is monitored annually and if I feel under the weather I make a GP appointment immediately.

How healthy is your diet?

I'd like to think it's very healthy. It's high protein with lots of vegetables but I'm not scared of carbs. I like to think of my diet as 80% on point and 20% treats - sure we all love a few crisps, sweets and the odd glass of wine. I believe there's a time and place for all foods - everything in moderation.

Any bad habits?

Accompanied by a good box set, I could eat Ben & Jerry's ice cream until the cows come home. I love their flavours cookie dough and phish food topped with fruit gums.

Do you drink and/or smoke - if so, how much?

I'm not a fan of smoking and, in fact, I have never smoked. I would say I'm a social drinker in that I'll pass myself at work or networking events with a glass and I enjoy catching up with friends every few weeks over a good bottle of wine.

Do you take any health supplements?

I've blogged about the protein powder I take in a shake and my homemade protein bars, but I don't take any pills or anything.

How do you take time out?

I love nothing better than escaping with my boys to the beaches of Donegal, walking the dog and hiking or having pizza with them. They play football at weekends so I enjoy taking time out to be a soccer mum!

How well do you sleep?

With small children my sleep can be interrupted and that's just part of parenthood. However sleep is so important for my well-being, so I try to get eight hours a night to ensure I feel refreshed on waking to be on the gym floor each morning at 6.30am. Where possible I go to bed without electronics as I reap the benefits of a good sleep.

Do you worry about getting old?

Losing my dad at the age of seven had a profound impact on my life as I grew up with my mum and my brother. One way I worked through the grief of losing dad was in my fine art degree show with an installation entitled Daddy's Bread. I used 795 empty bags of his favourite bread to represent each week from when he passed until the opening of my final exhibition.

As Michael and I have plans for growing old with our children, in one sense I would worry about not getting the chance to fulfil those dreams. Nonetheless, for now I'm very happy to live life to the full with the recognition that, because of the loss of my dad, every moment is precious and to be enjoyed.

What is your go-to product/habit that keeps you feeling healthy?

Yoga is my go-to habit for keeping me feeling healthy as it's the one thing that reminds me that I'm doing ok and my body is strong, flexible and mobile. My go-to product is definitely water.

See Aly's work and blog on her website at www.alyharte.com

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