I'm a sucker for boiled sweets says Chest, Heart and Stroke boss Declan Cunnane

Gail Bell asks experts and people in the public eye what keeps them going. This week: chief executive of Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke, Declan Cunnane

Declan Cunnane – I know some people don’t enjoy the gym, but I feel it is perfectly possible to Sweat the Small Things by incorporating activity into your daily life

1 Up and at it – what is your morning routine?

I am a morning person, so when my alarm goes off at 7am, I get up immediately. First task is to feed our dog, Figo, named after the Portuguese footballer, then run upstairs to waken my teenage children.

Generally this needs to be repeated several times before they show any signs of movement.

2 What might you eat in a typical working day for...

Breakfast? I start every day with a large bowl of porridge, topped with honey, fruit and nuts. I get a carry-out coffee on my way to the office – my first dose of caffeine, this is topped up at regular intervals throughout the day.

Lunch? Very quick, a sandwich or salad, usually eaten at my desk and sometimes followed by a brisk walk around the city centre.

Evening meal? Something substantial like rice or pasta dishes – lamb tagine or salmon with lentils are my favourites/

3 Is nutrition important to you?

I am well aware of the importance of a good diet, so I encourage my family to eat a balanced diet of good quality meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. Through my work at NICHS I was astonished to discover that poor diet is the major risk factor in 46 per cent of strokes.

4 Best meal ever?

This was in a beach-side restaurant in Portugal with a group including family and friends. We sat until the sun went down enjoying a leisurely meal of freshly caught fish, baked vegetables and delicious Albarino wine. Bliss...

5 Do you have a guilty pleasure?

I have a sweet tooth and I’m a sucker for any hard boiled sweets sold in jars.

6 Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?

No, I've never felt the need. I am reasonably careful about my diet and my weight rarely fluctuates.

7 Do you take health supplements?

No, I presume I get everything I need from a balanced diet.

8 How do you relax?

My relaxation comes from exercising (the more vigorous the better) and socialising with family and friends. Over the years I have found squash, running, swimming and cycling great de-stressors.

My weekend golf game with friends is great fun socially, but, because of my scores, not very relaxing!

9 Teetotal or tipple?

Wine with a meal at weekends (my weekend starts on Thursday!)

10 Stairs or lift?

I use the lift for anything more than two or three floors. I always take the stairs on the way down.

11 Do you have a daily exercise regime? Occasionally, weather permitting, I walk to work which takes me about 30 minutes. At lunchtime, if I have time, I will have a quick walk round the city centre.

My main exercise is taken on the way home when I call at the gym most days for a spin class. I find this very therapeutic. Later, in the evening, my wife and I usually take the dog out for a 30-minute walk.

12 Best tip for everyday fitness?

Develop a routine. My daily trip to the gym is such an integral part of my day that if I am unable to go, I really miss it. I know some people don’t enjoy the gym, but I feel it is perfectly possible to Sweat the Small Things (to quote from a recent NICHS campaign) by incorporating activity into your daily life. This can be done by by walking the dog, cutting the grass or taking the stairs. You can achieve a decent level of fitness without wearing lycra.

13 On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?

I am probably not bad for my age, maybe a 7 or 8.

14 Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?

I have never used alternative therapy, but I remain open-minded about its effectiveness. Certainly, some of my friends speak highly of the benefits.

15 Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?

Sadly, my memories of school sports are mainly negative. My lack of prowess in ball sports meant that I was rarely picked for any of the teams. Consequently, I have little interest in team sports such as football, rugby or Gaelic, preferring individual pursuits such as cycling, golf and athletics.

16 Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?

Personally, I have never had a health epiphany, but every day I see people who have. I frequently receive appreciative letters from our service users.

Recently, one couple wrote saying, "We will be eternally grateful to NICHS for providing this wonderful life-changing service".

17 Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?

Give stress a rest – stress is a major risk factor for many serious diseases. If you can’t change the situation that is causing you stress, then you will need to change how you cope with it before it starts to seriously affect your health.

There is a section on the NICHS website containing a stress test and information explaining effective stress management techniques.

18 Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?

Every day I meet people who have suffered ill health, often having a significant and sometimes devastating impact on their lives. I am inspired by their courage and determination in adjusting to their new circumstances and the appreciation they have for any care and support they receive.

I find it an inspiration to be surrounded by staff that are so committed and dedicated to their work.

19 What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?

I normally get to bed around 11.30pm. I read for a short while and then, once the lights go out, fall asleep immediately. I sleep like a log.

20 Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?

I have to say, I am very content with my life and, when the time comes, I don’t think I’ll have too much to complain about.

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