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A health scare during a friend's 50th birthday party prompted Paul to take control of his health. Fast-forward six months and he's transformed his lifestyle. This is his story.
“For many years I smoked 20 to 30 cigarettes per day and often drank more than the recommended guidelines. My lifestyle led to regular nights away from home often eating convenience food and drinking more than I should. I wasn’t conscious of my rapidly increasing alcohol consumption. I wasn’t aware of the moment that a couple of beers a night had slipped into a bottle and often a bottle and a half of wine.
A group of close friends around the dinner table offered to sponsor me to quit smoking and when I had been smoke-free for six months, a generous donation of £500 to a charity of my choice, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance. It was all the motivation I needed and to this day, the thought of letting my friends down is enough for me to remain a non-smoker. However, once I’d quit, I put on weight. I weighed 16.5 stone at my heaviest. I’d cracked the smoking habit, now to change my diet and exercise.
My wakeup call came in the form of a suspected heart attack in late 2018, one minute I was enjoying a friend’s 50th birthday party and the next I was in an ambulance on route to hospital. I had not actually suffered a heart attack but had developed a heart condition which resulted in this ‘episode’. I had felt unwell for some time; suffering irregular heartbeats, palpitations, breathlessness, dizzy spells and generally feeling unwell, but never deemed it serious enough to get things checked out.
Looking down at my chest in a hospital bed with wires and monitors attached to me made me realise I was wrong, I was a man in my 50's, who, after years of bad habits needed to get a grip of the situation I'd put myself in.
When I was released from hospital, two statements hit me between the eyes: ‘Alcohol abuse’ and ‘Obese.’ Seeing these words in writing somehow made me feel shame. My GP passed me a card for LiveWell Dorset and I thought on it for a few days, before picking up the phone. It was clear that I needed help: I wouldn’t have made progress had I just been left to my own devices. I needed the support, motivation and accountability to get going, which was what LiveWell provided. I started telephone coaching with LiveWell Coach Matt and it was just what I needed. He was easy to talk to. All the team at LiveWell were friendly, helpful and professional.
I had several coaching sessions with Matt and it wasn’t long before he told me that my alcohol reduction was heading towards, and then under the recommended consumption guidelines. Never in my mind did I believe that I was an alcoholic and I still believe that to this day. But I now accept that I used alcohol and food as a release; something to help me through dark and stressful times. Matt helped me to accept and overcome these times.
I wanted to get fit enough to start cycling and make the intimidating first steps through the doors of my local gym. That was when a good friend gave me a cross-trainer to try at home. At first, I struggled to do 500 meters. Then, over time, the fitness I gained was unbelievable! And the weight started to shift.
“It was when I decided to do it for myself that the change came naturally. Never be afraid to shout for help.”
I had an extremely high cholesterol reading of 6.6 when I came out of hospital, leading to a 70 per cent increase in the possibility of heart disease by the time I was 70. My GP surgery wanted to put me on statins, but I was determined to lower it through healthy diet and exercise - "give me six months" I said. I reduced it down to 5.9, and though this was not enough to forgo medication – I was permitted another six months. I am now at 5.3. I’m looking forward to reducing my risk of heart disease down and in line with expectation for a healthy man of my age.
By my final LiveWell coaching call, I'd achieved massive results. I felt better mentally and physically then than I had in the previous eight months. My employer provided some stress management counselling through our Employee Assistance Programme which gave me techniques to tackle how I dealt with anxieties of work and life in general. Combined with LiveWell coaching, I had the support and accountability I needed to stay the course.
Then, my son, Matthew said to me; “Dad, you’re coming to the gym with me”. “No way” was my response. I felt I was too big to go to the gym. So, he set me the challenge; get to 14 stone and then he’ll take me for my first sessions… I made it to 14 stone! My first experience was indeed a scary one initially yet unexpectedly a great experience and I really enjoyed meeting the team at RiversMeet in Gillingham. I expected a gym full of lycra-clad fitness addicts and weightlifters but it was neither, there was such a wide variety of ages and abilities that I immediately felt at ease. It’s full of people with the same goal – to get fit, stay fit and above all, work to a healthy lifestyle.
In that first week, I went three times with my son. Then the week after, he was later home from work, so I found myself wanting to go on my own. Now I am a little bit hooked, so much so that I booked a holiday and found myself ruling out resorts without a gym!
I now have a completely different outlook and my frame of mind has totally changed - the sun is always shining and for the first time in many years I am at ease with my body and emotions. Although confidence was never an issue for me this has given me self-confidence and belief that I can do anything I set my mind to. And if I struggle - I know there is help out there in LiveWell and my support network at work.
18 months after my heart episode and I am a self-confessed gym convert; I’ve lost well in excess of three stone and have greatly reduced my alcohol consumption. I still enjoy a drink socially but no longer have my daily bottle and a half of wine. I'm loving life and I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been for quite a while. Thank you LiveWell for your support and helping me to believe in myself.
I enjoy driving my track car as often as possible and I now look forward to not being the fat guy panting in the pit lane. We work so hard to achieve top speeds and impressive lap times and try to shed as much weight from our cars as possible. I’ve done that by shedding over three stone from my body and saved a fortune in the process!
“I was an overweight and unfit fifty-something. I'm now a healthy, happy and energetic gym-convert!”
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