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Me and my health: Declan Cunnane discusses his lifestyle

By Kerry McKittrick

The 54-year-old is the chief executive of Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. He lives in Belfast with his wife Michele and their children Joe (20), Catherine (18) and Patrick (16).

Q: Do you take regular exercise - and if so what? 

A: I am an avid cyclist, but don't commute to work on the bike as I think it's too dangerous. I cycle in the summer months with friends instead. Queen's PEC is on my route home so most days I will do a spin class there. When the Gran Fondo was here last year, I competed and in addition I cycled to every NICHS office in Northern Ireland, a total distance of 300 kilometres.

Q: What's the worst illness you've ever had?

A: Fortunately I've never had a serious illness or any broken bones. I have, however, been affected by stress and it is usually triggered off by things in my personal life. The first time this happened was when I lost my father, who died when I was very young. I can find myself feeling helpless in this type of situation. I cope by trying to control my reaction to the stress and focus on the positives in life - in my case, it is my family.

Q: How healthy is your diet?

A: Generally quite good but not perfect. I usually have porridge with honey for breakfast. In the summer months I love to barbecue - even if it's raining, as I think a steak tastes better cooked that way. Fast food, takeaways and desserts are not on my menu, and I don't like fizzy drinks.

Q: Any bad habits?

A: I do have a particularly sweet tooth, so I love a bag of brandy balls if I'm putting my feet up on a Saturday to watch a good film or the TV. I find it very hard to walk past the kind of shop that still sells sweeties in big jars.

Q: Do you drink and/or smoke and, if so, how much?

A: Wine and beer are my favourite tipples. I like a good pint of Guinness and tend just to drink at weekends - beer if I'm out and wine with a meal. I don't smoke and never have. I hate smoking and the smell of it.

Q: Do you take any health supplements?

A: None of any sort. One of the advantages of working at Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke is that we have nurses carrying out regular health checks, so I get tested all the time. If my blood pressure, cholesterol or anything else was awry, I would know about it. Everything is as it should be, so I don't feel the need to take anything else.

Q: How do you take time out?

A: Apart from cycling and the gym, I play golf every Sunday. To be honest, I'm not very good, and what's worse is that I'm not getting any better. I think it might be adding to my stress rather than bringing it down.

Q: How do you sleep?

A: Like a log. I go to bed early and get up early and I've never had any trouble sleeping.

Q: Do you worry about getting old?

A: No more than anyone else. My father died of a heart attack when he was just 63. On the other hand, my mother was one of 14 children and they all lived well into their 80s and 90s. Hopefully my genes come from that side of the family. I've always had an active lifestyle and my diet has got better over the years. If you're in reasonable health with no serious illnesses I don't think you should worry about it too much.

Q: What is your go-to product/habit that keeps you feeling healthy?

A: Exercise. I don't go to spin classes because I have to, I go because I enjoy it and get cross if I'm held up and miss it. You're locked in for an hour so you can't escape, but I find the time goes much more quickly when you're part of a group. Afterwards, I go home having shaken the day off and feeling refreshed after class. It's a great de-stresser. I've tried to go to the gym on my own but I'm bored after about 15 minutes.

  • The Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke Step Up & Ride cycle takes place on Saturday, October 1, with distances of 70km and 100km from Portballintrae. For more information go to

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