Page last updated at 23:13 GMT, Saturday, 25 July 2009 00:13 UK

'World champ helped my mental health'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Leigh Bailey
Leigh Bailey is now a qualified gym instructor

Leigh Bailey's world was in tatters.

His marriage had broken up, he had lost his job and had a breakdown.

He was so depressed he barely left the house and was suffering low self-esteem.

Today he is brimming with confidence and has recently qualified as a gym instructor.

And he credits his transformation to a 10-week Boxercise course run jointly with the Croydon branch of Mind and three times world champion Duke McKenzie.

Boxercise is a fitness class which incorporates a number of boxing moves and techniques, without the physical contact.

Boxing fit

"It really inspired me," said Leigh.

"Before I started the Boxercise programme I was suffering from agoraphobia, low self-esteem and depression, I wasn't working or leaving my house other than to attend medical appointments.

"It had a major impact in helping me regain ownership of my own life."

I used to join the groups every Friday - the idea of having a consultant psychiatrist on a skipping rope next to his patient is useful for both
Dr Deji Ayonrinde

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Deji Ayonrinde, who is based at the Bethlem Royal Hospital, London, said exercise had long been considered as beneficial to mental health, but said this was thought to be the first time Boxercise had been used in this way.

"It is a great project," he said.

"My role at the beginning was the assessment and screening of people for their suitability. As it had never been done before we weren't sure what effect it would have on people.

"There had been some anxiety among health professionals that Boxercise and boxing methods may actually increase aggression and violence among people with mental health problems, which certainly has not been the case whatsoever.

"What it has done is to improve physical fitness in all participants in some there was quite noticeable weight loss. This is quite important to help prevent health risks such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension."

Taking part

Dr Ayonrinde was so inspired that he even took part in the programme himself.

"I used to join the groups every Friday. The idea of having a consultant psychiatrist on a skipping rope next to his patient is useful for both.

"People who would probably reluctantly attend clinic were turning up at the gym two hours early.

"They were keen to be there and there was a noticeable shift in their self-esteem and confidence."

Duke McKenzie (centre) with tv presenter Ben Shepard and Leigh Bailey
Duke (centre) runs a Boxercise programme

Duke, who has helped coach 50 people with mental health problems through the course, said it had been a great success.

"The two most important thing I have done is listened and given them the gym programme," he said.

"They do a boxing work out - a little bit of cardio, skipping and the step-machine and rowing machine, but the fun really starts when they get into the gym and we do the pad work.

"When people get into the ring and start working out they open up like a tin of baked beans."

He said he had also benefited from the collaboration.

"It has been my most rewarding project bar none. I now have four people from Mind working with me at the gym, including Leigh who is my right-hand man.

"I take no credit from the fact that they have done so well because at the end of the day they have got to want to get better.

"Not everybody I have worked with has kept themselves on track, but the four I have working for me - well, you have got to see it to believe it."

Inspirational training

Leigh admits he was reluctant to take part, but by the end of the programme was hooked and believes the exercise combined with a change in medication had inspired the change.

"The first three sessions I found it very hard. It was the last place I wanted to be - I felt down, had low self-esteem and low confidence, but by the fourth session I was actually looking forward to it.

"By the fifth session I had a lot of confidence and had started to eat properly and sleep.

"I was managing to go out and see people and by the end of it I had got the boxing bug.

"Boxercise gave me self-motivation, rather than waiting for people to motivate me."

The Croydon scheme has just been presented with a Health and Social Care Award, run in partnership between the Department of Health and the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.

Richard Pacitti, chief executive of Mind in Croydon, said the scheme had been perfect for integration.

"We are trying to get people to take part in mainstream activity as a way of getting re-engaged with the real world rather than doing something in typical mental health settings.

"It has been a good way of mixing people up.

"What happens in mental health is you tend to get lumped together with people with the same diagnosis and people say 'I have nothing in common with these people apart from my diagnosis'. What we are doing is putting people with a common interest together and we find they have developed good friendships."

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