A Northern Ireland doctor has thrown his weight behind a 220-mile cross-border challenge which will see cyclists journey from Belfast to Dublin and back.
Veteran GP James Gillespie has been treating patients at Mourneside surgery in Strabane’s Ballycolman area for more than 30 years.
He is all too familiar with changing trends in the health of his patients.
Many of his patients presenting with Type 2 diabetes are aged between 20 and 30 — people with very different needs to the 60 and 70-year-olds he used to treat for the condition.
A prevalent fast food culture also continues to take its toll, as he treats children as young as 10 for complications associated with obesity.
He said the message was simple — get back to basics. He told the Belfast Telegraph: “Exercise is the key. Walking is still the best form of exercise and it costs nothing.
“Cycling is also a very cheap sport. No matter how busy we are, I’m sure most of us could afford 30 minutes a day for a bit of exercise.
“The benefits physically and psychologically are well documented — because you release endorphins which generally act as natural pain relievers.”
Dr Gillespie added: “Exercise is brilliant for mental health. In fact practitioners are using exercise not just in conjunction with medicine but instead of it more and more.”
That’s why Dr Gillespie is backing the Co-operation Ireland Maracycle 2012, a cross-border cycling challenge which will take place from June 23-24.
An Assembly department has already joined forces with Co-operation Ireland to encourage people to get on their bikes.
The Department for Regional Development’s Travelwise NI scheme is hoping to promote the benefits of cycling by sponsoring the Maracycle company challenge.
Organisers of this year’s marathon cycle have also encouraged work colleagues to team up and take part as a team.
As part of the calendar of events during Two Wheels: Two Weeks this June, Travelwise NI and the Irish Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport have come on board as official sponsors of the Maracycle company challenge.
They are calling on companies across Northern Ireland and the Republic to saddle up for the charity bike ride.
S tory so far
More than 50,000 people have taken part in Co-operation Ireland’s Maracycle since the annual fundraiser was first held in July 1984. Cyclists will make the 220-mile round trip from Belfast to Dublin over the weekend of June 23-24. Money raised goes towards projects which help break down sectarian barriers. For more, email events@cooperationireland. org or tel: 028 9032 1462