Two work colleagues who were shocked into dramatically changing their lifestyles after a Men's MOT Health Check on the Action Cancer Big Bus last January are urging other men to start this new year on a healthier footing.
Since climbing aboard the Big Bus at Sprucefield a year ago, inspirational Colin Cummings (45) and Gary Watkins (41) have lost over seven stone between them and both say they feel fitter, healthier, happier and more confident.
The two guys both confess to having ignored their health before -- a common male trait according to Action Cancer.
In fact, men are known to ignore symptoms for up to two years despite having a 16% higher risk than women of developing cancer.
The Health MOT's provided on Action Cancer's state-of-the-art Big Bus mobile unit, which is sponsored by independent retail group SuperValu, includes tests for blood pressure, lung capacity, cholesterol levels and skin damage caused by exposure to the sun.
Blood glucose is also checked to test for diabetes risk, and men are given dietary advice and information on exercise, quitting smoking, alcohol and how to make changes to their lifestyle that will reduce their risk of getting cancer.
Sean Conlon, Action Cancer's SuperValu Big Bus co-ordinator, says: "While these checks do not diagnose cancer, they provide an important opportunity to increase awareness of current health and the importance of early detection.
"This is vital as up to 50% of cancers can be prevented with the right lifestyle choices. We want men to enjoy the same level of awareness and openness about cancer as women do currently, and I would encourage men to be proactive, make that appointment and get the MOT done. All it takes is half an hour and it could literally change, and save, your life."
After their transformation both Colin and Gary are also urging local men to take advantage of the service.
'I used to be self-conscious about my weight when I took the kids swimming'
Gary Watkins (41), graphic manager at EXCITE, is married to Linda (39), a nurse. They live in Lisburn with their three children, twins Nicola and Nathan (8) and Kate (2). He says:
My weight crept up gradually in my late teens and 20s after I left home and just ate what I liked when I liked.
"I am 6ft 2ins and was 18 stone when I visited the Action Cancer Bus. I was in a rut and lacked the energy to do things I wanted with my kids. I was self-conscious too about my weight, especially if I took the kids swimming.
"After attending the MOT Health Check and knowing I was coming 40, I got a bit of a shock that spurred me into action.
"The results of the tests on the bus showed that I had a metabolic age of 56, and I was only 39. Plus, when I stood on the scales it came up that I was obese. I took up running and general cardio exercise, cut out all fatty foods and sugary drinks, and used 'super foods' like nuts and berries to kerb off hunger pangs.
"After a year I am now just under 13 stone which for my height is perfect for me.
"I feel more alive and do all the fun things that I wished I could have done before with the kids.
"I do have the odd 'binge' day once or twice a month but my metabolic age now is a fantastic 38 -- three years younger than my actual age.
"I feel much more confident in myself and I can kick a ball around with the kids and go out with them on bike rides."
'In six weeks I went from hating the gym to not minding at all'
Colin Cummings (45), from Dromore, is the owner of the Lisburn-based exhibition and promotions material company EXCITE. He has lost almost three stone since visiting the Big Bus. He says:
I knew that at 5ft 10ins and 15 and a half stone, I was badly overweight when I went to have the MOT check carried out.
"The Big Bus made me realise the clock was ticking. Up until then I had never taken care of myself and I drank the bit out when I was younger. I was a real candidate for someone who just going to keel over.
"I actually made a mistake on the bus which did me a huge favour.
"I was told my metabolic rate was the age of a 70-year- old and I didn't understand what that meant and assumed it was to do with my heart health. That really scared me.
"Through sheer laziness I would have eaten lots of takeaway food at lunch.
"I also ate chocolate biscuits during the day and then at night had dinner and dessert and then maybe went to the pub.
"For me now it's all about calories and I have a great app My Fitness Pal which tells you the calorie content of your food and drink.
"The average daily intake for a man is around 2,000 and one of those takeaways alone which I was having for lunch about three or four times a week was around 1,500 calories. That shocked me.
"I started eating 'smarter' and began to take notice of the nutritional information of the food I was preparing. I joined my local gym and through cycling and treadmill running I quickly started to see my body shape change and felt my stamina improve, and noticed the weight starting to come off.
"The first week I thought I was going to die but within six weeks I went from hating it to not minding it at all.
"I feel healthier and fitter and much happier. I am gay and the difference in being semi-slim to being fat is like night and day in terms of going out on the pull.
"It has really boosted my confidence.
"I got my hair coloured and my teeth done and had a real makeover.
"My new metabolic rate when I went back to the Big Bus was closer to 35 and even though I finally realised that it was not linked to my heart health, that misunderstanding has helped me to transform my life in every way."
The risk factor
Men ignore health symptoms for up to two years
Men have a 16% higher risk of developing cancer than women and are 40% more likely to die from the disease
Men in NI have the highest incidence of bowel cancer in Western Europe
One third of men do not know where the prostate is, yet the same number aged 50 and over may have prostate cancer.
Over 200 men in Northern Ireland die from the disease each year, yet it is very treatable if caught early.
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men aged 15-45, affecting 60 males every year. If caught early it is easily treatable and nearly always curable.
Health checks are provided on the Big Bus and additionally Action Cancer run a men's health check clinic every Monday evening. Appointments can be booked by going online at www.actioncancer.org or tel: 028 9080 3344.