Taxi drivers in top gear for healthier lifestyle

Image caption, Andrew McCartney said the programme gave drivers an incentive

Taxi drivers in Londonderry have given up their special treats so they can become fitter and enjoy a healthier lifestyle. BBC NI reporter Keiron Tourish reports...

About half a dozen firms as well as other volunteers are hitting the gym and watching what they eat.

It is all part of a competition to see who is the biggest loser - of weight.

Eamon O'Donnell from the North-West Taxi Proprietors Association said that "we've been encouraging all taxi-drivers in the city to try to assess their lifestyle and become healthier".

"With funding from the Big Lottery Fund it now means we can really make a difference to the lives of taxi drivers.

"They are now following a fitness regime and eating more healthy foods.

"Each week they get their various measurements taken to see the improvements they've made and the Friday weigh-in means there's a great deal of competition to see who is the biggest loser.

"It is competitive all right but there's a lot of friendly banter which the drivers enjoy."

He continued: "There's a very serious message in all of this. There's a massive problem of poor health out there and taxi drivers are among those people affected by it."

Veronica Bradley is one of the drivers who took up the challenge and it's a decision she has not regretted.

She said: "It is very, very good. It's great, fantastic, it's made me healthier. I was never on a bicycle and I never walked.

"But I'm doing all that now. Never in a gym in my life and I'm doing it now. It's fantastic and it gives you a goal now in life."

John Houston is equally enthusiastic.

The taxi driver said: "You have the weigh-in on a Friday, so that means there's a bit of competition and a fair bit of banter. Keeps you on your toes and keeps you at it. You don't want to miss a session."

That view was supported by Natalie Crumlish.

"From January I've lost two and a half stone," she said.

"I love getting out and meeting people and it gives you a great buzz. It is working for me and I'd recommend it to everybody."

Fitness instructor Tommy McCallion, Community Health and Well Being Officer with Derry City Council, said he had been hugely impressed with his new squad of eager taxi drivers who love their gym sessions.

"Basically it is about improving health for local men and women. With taxi drivers they are working in a certain environment and there are pressures to make a living, especially with the current economic climate.

"So this is about exercise, it is about good nutrition and better lifestyle."

"We've five trainers assigned to the project and we'll work with the group over six months."

Everyone involved is now feeling the benefit of their new lifestyle change.

Taxi company owner Andrew McCartney said the competitiveness amongst the taxi drivers would ensure that everyone continues to follow the fitness regime.

Mr McCartney said: "I think it is a very good programme.

"Taxi drivers by their very nature spend much of their working day in their car.

"So this type of programme gives them the incentive. Although this is competitive, it is exercise and it is fun."