The Men on the Move programme has changed the lives of many who have taken part. We catch up with two men who lost eight stone between them, thanks to the 12-week physical activity course
When Donegal man Billy McMahon says that taking part in a Men on the Move pilot programme was “absolutely life-changing”, he isn’t exaggerating. The indoor and outdoor exercise sessions organised at Ray Community Centre by Donegal Sports Partnership in conjunction with the HSE back in 2015 saw him shed three stone and gain a whole new social circle as he turned 50.
That new-found sense of well-being led to him implementing a slew of changes in the years that followed, the most dramatic of which has been quitting dairy farming 15 months ago and converting a van into a campervan last year.
“My wife, Anne, drives and I pedal. We completed the Wild Atlantic Way last year,” says Billy, who suffered from depression in the past. Had I not gone to Men on the Move, none of this would have happened. I decided there was more to life than milking cows and I’m having the time of my life,” the Ramelton man says.
The physical activity programme for adult men with an emphasis on fitness and fun led to running, cycling and kayaking becoming part of his routine.
“It took perseverance and hard work, but as a dairy farmer, what I liked about the 12-week programme was that I got to meet people outside farming circles from my own area,” Billy says. “We always did stuff as a family, but in the past, I would have given more time to others than myself. This was a treat for myself. I really enjoyed all the exercise and learned to swim, having previously had a fear of water. I now run three mornings a week at 6am and do a long run every Saturday.”
With his son having studied history and his daughter, aerospace engineering, and neither having an interest in taking over the farm, he decided to lease the land through Land Mobility and is delighted with his new arrangement. “I have a great relationship with the guy who took over the farm and I sometimes find myself working on my own land as he pays me to spread slurry and fertiliser and cut hedges.”
While he jokes that he doesn’t have time to work now, Billy has been keeping busy with woodwork and helping out various charities. He and Anne, a vet who works part-time, visited agricultural projects before they leased a farm in Rwanda. The couple also has links with a charity in Ethiopia. “When Covid restrictions allow, those are the places we want to visit,” Billy says.
“I could have done what I was doing for another 10 years, but we were fortunate that we were debt free. Working on a farm, you do things at your own pace. Our Men on the Move trainer encouraged us to push our boundaries a bit. Everybody couldn’t do what I did and I wouldn’t say people need to do it, but taking part in Men on the Move really broadened my horizons.”
And for 62-year-old Dungarvan man Eugene Tobin, joining Men on the Move also proved transformative. “When I joined the Waterford Sports Partnership programme about five years ago, I was about 18st and on medication for diabetes, cholesterol and heart. Now I’m down to 13st and off the medication,” says Eugene, who is a cinema manager.
“I was feeling very lethargic and had no motivation to get up, apart from work, and was snacking a lot. Now I’m out six or seven mornings a week doing a 10-mile walk,” he says. “I was just fed up and said I would try the programme and see how it went. After I signed up, everything became doable. Everyone was started at a low level, the instructors never pushed anyone to do more than they could.
“The benefits I got mentally as well as physically have been enormous. The camaraderie is fantastic. Older men often don’t have many friends but Men on the Move provided a chance for interaction where men could offload and things like a cancer diagnosis could be discussed.
“I’m a different person as a result of Men on the Move and I don’t want to go back to the way I was. I’m still involved and have done the online programme during lockdown. Some of us have also met up outside the group. The difference Men on the Move has made to my life has been massive.”
The award-winning community-based Men on the Move programme first ran in Mayo in 2013 and was extended to eight counties in 2016 before going nationwide. Mayo Sports Partnership sports co-ordinator Charlie Lambert says approximately 6,000 men have taken part in the programme, which is evaluated by the HSE along with Waterford IT, IT Carlow and the Centre for Men’s Health, Leeds, since it kicked off.
“The Men on the Move idea came on the back of a 2012 Sport Ireland Mayo/Sligo adult participation report, which highlighted limited participation by men in sport and physical activity in rural areas,” Lambert says.
“The implementation committee of Mayo Sports Partnership met to discuss the outcomes of the report and the Men on the Move concept was devised in partnership with HSE West. A pilot 16-week project was held in three locations in the county — Westport, Claremorris and Ballina — which incorporated 120 men. The project was fully evaluated by Waterford IT,” he says.
The free community based ‘beginners’ physical activity programme for adult men, which had to go online during lockdown, aims to improve the overall health and well-being of participants. It consists of structured group exercise twice a week, two facilitated experiential workshops, a 24-page health information booklet, a pedometer for independent physical activity sessions, weekly phone contact, a customised wallet card to record measures taken and a 5km celebration event as it concludes (when restrictions are fully lifted).
The core components of the structured group exercise are cardiovascular fitness and strength and conditioning training. However, some flexibility is catered for between programmes to ensure these core components are achieved in a way that best suits the participants’ needs.
At the outset of pre-Covid programmes, participants have been measured for weight, height, BMI, waist circumference and also complete a one-mile timed walk or run. Measurements were then taken again 12 weeks later. The social side — the fun and the company — have been key, with everything from mountain walks to sing-songs part of the activities before lockdown.
At Inniscarra Men on the Move in Cork, coach Nicky Jones reports that their group has been back training for the past five to six weeks. “We will now take a break for the summer months and start back in week one, September, and run through to Christmas, mainly indoor during winter,” he says.
“It was a bit hectic during the last few weeks as the group was nominated for a community team award and reached the final three. We were just pipped by a very deserving team from the city. Still, the competition, filming and interviews were good fun and the lads enjoyed the craic.
“During the next 12 weeks, we will do the occasional mountain climb/hill walk or maybe a cycle trip or fishing in and around Cork. The bottom line is that the group is all about having fun, being together with younger and older buddies who become friends but remain competitive.”
More information on Men on the Move is available from local sports partnerships