Turning 40 can mark a turning point in life, prompting reflection on all the chapters completed and all the blank pages yet to fill. Kate Ritchie, who portrayed wholesome schoolgirl-turned-mum Sally Fletcher on Home and Away for two decades, is on the verge of that milestone – and while she's fairly relaxed about the event, other people are already finding it somewhat alarming.
"A lot of people who I chat to, especially people who are older than me, when I tell them I'm turning 40 they look at me and think, 'oh my goodness, if Sally Fletcher is 40, how old does that make me?! Only a minute ago you were a small child on the television, now you're a 40-year-old woman,'" says Kate, laughing good-naturedly as she reflects on her August birthday. "I feel good about it," she adds.
Posing for the cover of this month's Good Health magazine, Kate reflects on life fitness, family and looking after her health.
What has underpinned everything Kate has done in her career is her robust health and wellbeing – something Kate never takes for granted.
"I've always considered myself to be quite a healthy person but when I left Home and Away at the end of 2007 my health regimen changed in many ways, partly because I had a lot more time on my hands – I wasn't up at the crack of dawn [on set at] Palm Beach for 14 hours a day – and I was able to focus on my health as a whole. I had to reassess what my purpose was, without my career, and I think exercise, and good health generally, really came into play there."
Although Kate now gets to Pilates only once a week – "on a good week" – due to her busy schedule, exercise remains a vital component in keeping her physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. For that reason, she's drawn on a technique familiar to all mums in order to shoehorn more physical activity into her days: multi-tasking.
"I used to wake up before the rest of the house to do all my planning for The Kate, Tim and Marty Show, because it was the most productive time," she says.
"But I realised I was sitting hunched over a computer every morning in a dark little room. I was getting my work done but I didn't feel as though I was achieving much else."
"It's probably been 12 months now where I've tried to get into a good routine of combining my planning with walking on the treadmill at the gym. I allocate probably an hour, on as many days as I can, to having a walk, on a bit of an incline, while planning the show on my phone."
Talking to Kate – who is every bit as warm, relatable and lacking in airs and graces as you'd imagine – it becomes clear that planning is important to her.
"I hate to say it but I think I'm turning into my mother in many ways," she says, laughing.
"There is a little book from a magazine which has been handed down in our family full of weekly food plans, and I had always thought it was so ridiculous – I mean, how hard can it be to feed a family?! – but, my goodness, I only have one child and I'm overwhelmed with washing and trying to put food on the table every night! So I do think a meal plan for the week is the best way of knowing you are going to be fuelling your body in the correct way."
She adds, "Talking of becoming my mother, I always thought that freezing food was the worst thing anybody could ever do and now I've realised that it makes sense. I absolutely love to cook, and I do a delicious big batch of food and freeze it so we can eat nutritious food every day."
Kate's daughter Mae is proving to be one of her greatest teachers. Watching her wide-eyed daughter in front of the mirror, for example, has led Kate to examine her own relationship with her body.
"I think, 'oh my goodness, is that me checking out whether my jeans are too tight?!'" she muses. "[Children] really do pick up on every single thing that you do. It's been a very good learning curve that we need to be kinder to ourselves. I find myself every day censoring what I would normally say about what I am wearing or how I feel about my body, and I think in turn that's teaching me to love myself a little bit more."
Growing up in the public eye – she was just eight when she started on Home and Away and left at age 29 – could have saddled Kate with serious hang-ups about her body. But thanks to her grounded upbringing in suburban Campbelltown, south-west Sydney, the scrutiny hasn't had a lasting effect.
"In the old days television did make you look bigger than you really were," she says. "I spent the formative years of my life having people come up to me saying, 'Wow, you're not as fat as I thought you were'. People think they are paying you a compliment, and it comes from an honest place."
"But I can't deny that in some ways it made me develop a self-consciousness."
Kate continues: "The last thing I would want is for my daughter to have… I don't want to say 'body issues', but I'm very conscious of curtailing any behaviour around feeling self-conscious."