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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 06:24 GMT
From the couch to the climbing wall
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Gary Buncher before his weight loss
Gary needed to lose nearly four stone

At seventeen-and-a-half stone Gary Buncher was a self confessed couch potato.

Changing the TV channels and reaching for his beers used to be the most active thing the 41-year-old engineer attempted.

His health was starting to suffer, even tying his shoe laces left him panting for breath.

But three months ago Gary, from Braunstone, Leicester, discovered Beer Belly Busters and it has transformed his life.

Beer

The men-only weight loss programme and a subsidised gym funded by his local community association have enabled him to shed nearly four stone and he feels much better for it.

"Before this I did no exercise at all. I came home and watched the television, drank my beer and then watched more television.

I was puffing and panting just tying my shoelaces
Gary Buncher

"I would have about 30 cans of beer in a week and I would not do anything.

"I was breathless and had no energy. I was puffing and panting just tying my shoelaces.

"At the time I was not worried about it, but it had got to the stage where I could not do anything without it taking it out of me and leaving me breathless."

"The hardest thing was finding the time to do something about it. I always used to put dieting off saying that I had no time, but you have got to make time."

Now the whole family benefits from Gary's new active life. He plays badminton and scales the local climbing wall with his sons and he has got his wife interested in joining the gym.

He says he feels 100 times better.

"This gave me the kick-start I needed. Now I feel a lot more content and relaxed and a hell of a lot fitter."

Slimmer

Fellow slimmer Neil Chapman, a hospital administrator, has been going to Beer Belly Busters for just over a month and has already managed to drop nine pounds in weight.

He says that without the incentive of the group and its camaraderie he might never have had the strength to slim and get fit.

"I wanted to do it, but I put it off. Then my brother started to go and I thought I would too. We all help and support each other.

"I used to eat chips and a lot of packet meals, burgers and sausages and now I eat baked potatoes. I try to vary my diet with fresh food and meat. I also try to go to the gym about three times a week."

Health worker and local resident Andy Vincent explained that because Braunstone is a deprived council estate on the outskirts of Leicester it has been given a funding package of 49.5 million for projects to tackle unemployment and crime, improving health, housing, the physical environment and raising educational achievement.

It has also been granted Sports Action Zone status to enable it to access funding for residents. This means they can offer the slimmers subsidised membership of the gym and slimming club.

When Andy took up his post two years ago he quizzed the local men about their concerns.

"I went out into the streets and clubs and talked to men and got their thoughts on the issues and various things came out.

"I found that the level of smoking was high. 55% of them admitted that smoking affected their health and that they were worried about their weight and fitness.

"It was partly to do with diet and what was available in the local area. There is a low car ownership so they are reliant on public transport for where they can go and there are a lot of chip shops and Chinese take-aways and burger shops.

"The men recognised there was a problem with their weight and even though more admitted smoking was a problem the percentage which wanted to do something about it was very low.

"But the number of people who wanted to do something about their weight was very high. And at the end of the day people only give up if they want to."

Health

Andy said the men had a variety of health problems such as arthritis and high blood pressure.

All the men are given advice on exercise as well as membership to a men-only slimming club run by Weightcare and local consultant Michael Beardow.

Michael started running the men-only classes after losing about four and a half stone himself at a predominantly female class.

He said the single-sex classes encouraged more men to start slimming and since the group opened in Braunstone just over three months ago.

He said the atmosphere at the weekly meeting was good and that people were already starting to see the health benefits.

"It is a bit of a man's night out and they can enjoy themselves and have a bit of fun we are getting some fantastic results.

"They were guys who had not looked after themselves very well. "




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