"I'm fitter now than I've ever been" - Martin's story
Martin Fennings’ heart attack and surgery inspired major lifestyle changes and huge weight loss. Rachael Healy hears how he did it.
Martin Fennings has made some drastic lifestyle changes in the past 18 months. But unlike many new year fad dieters, he’s sticking to them.
With his busy job running a greyhound stadium, finding time to stay active or eat well wasn’t always a priority for Martin, 53. “Because I’m six foot two, even though I was 21-and-a-half stone, I never really looked it,” he says. “Everyone would always say: ‘Oh, you don’t look that big.’ After a while, you start believing it.”
Martin, from Tipton, West Midlands, did twice try to lose weight, and managed to lose up to four stone. But he always returned to his old ways and the weight went back on. “I have to work late nights,” Martin explains. “When you finish at 11.30pm, the easiest option is to go to the takeaway. I used to be a chef, so I know about nutrition and what you should and shouldn’t eat, but in reality it’s often what’s easiest, not what’s best.”
Martin was forced to confront his habits in 2015. He’d been receiving treatment for angina, but began experiencing worse spells of discomfort. He didn’t believe it was anything serious though. “You never think it’s going to happen to you,” he explains.
But one day in April 2015, his symptoms got significantly worse. “There was pain in my chest, my left arm, the top of my shoulder and the back of my neck,” he says. “After two hours I was still suffering.”
Martin wasn’t sure what was happening, but the pain convinced him to seek medical help. When he got to Russells Hall Hospital, Dudley, he was given an ECG. Doctors said it looked like he’d been having a series of cardiac events over a period of weeks.
He was taken by ambulance to New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton for further assessment. After assessing the damage, doctors decided Martin needed quadruple bypass surgery.
“I thought the whole world had fallen in,” says Martin. “They let me go home for three days before the surgery. I had friends and family coming round, almost as if to say their last goodbyes. It was pretty awful.”
Back in hospital, staff helped reassure Martin. “I can’t praise New Cross Hospital enough,” he says. “From the guys cleaning the wards to the surgeon who performed the operation, the staff were brilliant.”
The day after surgery, Martin felt better than expected and was determined to start getting active. When he was released from hospital a couple of weeks later, he bought a bike and was soon taking short rides along canal towpaths near his home.
By the end of August, Martin was well enough to begin cardiac rehabilitation. “It’s just easy stuff to start with,” says Martin. “You go on the bike for two minutes, the treadmill for two minutes, do a few step-ups and then some stomach crunches.”
Martin started attending three sessions a week. Cardiac rehab instructors helped him to scale up his exercise regime as his fitness improved. “I’ve been going from strength to strength,” he says. “I still go to the hospital gym a few times a week and I go out on my bike regularly, for 10 or 15 miles. I’m not Chris Froome, but as long as there’s coffee at the end, I’ve got an incentive.”
Martin also swims and jogs, and has started playing badminton with his wife Jacqui. The couple have overhauled their eating habits, too.
“I cut down on portions and don’t eat fried food any more,” says Martin. “Everything is wholemeal now. I don’t buy anything processed. I eat a lot of fruit and fresh food. I don’t even buy things like biscuits. I think that’s the secret; if they’re not in the house, you can’t eat them.”
Martin has shed nearly seven stone and is determined to stick with his new lifestyle. “I’ve got one daughter and she gave birth to a little lad last year [pictured above] and it’s given me motivation,” he says. “I don’t want to be a fat grandad, I want to keep up with him.
“I’m fitter now than I’ve ever been. I’m quite proud of myself.”
Martin says he’s always been a worrier, but his heart attack has put things into perspective with a lot of support from his family. “I’ve got a totally different outlook on life,” he says. “I came through the worst and I try to remind myself of that daily.
“Without the help of my family I don’t know where I’d be. My wife’s been incredible. She’s so supportive.”
He’s even got some new year’s resolutions of his own. “A friend of mine lost a lot of weight and now he does triathlons. Looking at him has inspired me and he’s egging me on to try one,” says Martin. “I can swim, I can bike, I can run, it’s just putting them all together! That is definitely my goal.”
Are you overweight?
Martin was among the 65 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women in the UK who are overweight or obese. Because it is so common, many people don’t know what obesity looks like and therefore don’t recognise it when they see it. Like Martin’s loved ones, friends and family may be reluctant to make comments about your weight.
Calculating your BMI is one way to tell whether you’re overweight or obese. A BMI of above 25 may mean you are overweight. If it is over 30, you may be obese. You can calculate yours using our BMI calculator.
Another good guide is waist circumference. The ideal measurement varies based on your gender and ethnicity. Find out more about managing your weight.