About me

Working with Usain Bolt – summer 2009

Healthy Life Neil

After more than 20 years of working in sports development and health promotion I am now running my own business under the brand name Healthy Life Neil. The focus is to use my expertise and experience to work with individuals and groups to help them to lose weight and improve their overall health and fitness. My dual approach of healthier eating and regular exercise is widely accepted as the most effective route to tackle the most prevalent lifestyle diseases such as obesity, coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers. In fact, being overweight has been shown to result in worse outcomes for people who contract COVID-19 so there has never been a more important time for people to get into shape and to be more active.

I have been physically active for my whole life.  When I was younger it was all about sport, especially athletics and football.  For the last 20 years I have kept fit through running, weights in the gym, circuit training, and a bit of 5-a-side.  I haven’t always managed to stay a healthy weight, but by implementing what I have learnt about healthy eating in the past few years, I am now in the best shape that I have been since I was a teenager.  My views on all things food, exercise, and health can be found in the blog section.  This section is a run down of my career so far, plotting a path through from university to the roles I have taken in my professional career.

Sport and exercise science studies

Having secured some decent A Levels I took a place at Loughborough University to study Sport and Exercise Science.  I chose Loughborough because of its outstanding reputation in sports studies, which continues to this day.  In fact, Loughborough was ranked as the number one university in the world for the study of sports-related subjects in 2018.  

I was most interested in the physiology and biomechanics areas. I was particularly keen on the physiology of sports nutrition and also in relation to high intensity exercise.  The physiology of exercise for health was a completely new area to me, but I was fascinated by the impact that exercise can have on chronic medical conditions that are the biggest causes of death in our modern society.  

I completed undergraduate and masters degrees at Loughborough.  For the dissertation in my first degree I investigated the biomechanics of pole vaulting (that was my own athletics discipline), which led me into helping with the University‘s sports science support work for UK Athletics and British Gymnastics.  At Masters level my final project was an investigation of the physiological adaptations to sprint training.

Professional career

University of Portsmouth

In 1997 I joined the University of Portsmouth as a lecturer in sport and exercise science.  I was primarily employed to teach sports biomechanics, but over the 4 years that I was there I was also able to write and deliver physiology modules in maximal intensity exercise and exercise for health.  I continued to work with UK Athletics in supporting their World Class Performance Programme for the pole vault, which helped me to qualify as an accredited sports scientist with the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES).  

Brunel University 

By 2001 I was ready for a new challenge focused on sports development and management rather than lecturing.  I landed a job as Assistant Director of Sport at Brunel University in West London, which at the time was merging its 4 campuses together.  One of these campuses was formerly known as the West London Institute of Higher Education; our big rivals from my athletics days at Loughborough.  It was this tradition that attracted me to Brunel.  

I quickly pushed on with new sports facility projects alongside Prof. Steve Hodkinson (the best person I‘ve worked with).  Together we secured funding for and built indoor and outdoor athletics facilities, a sports centre, artificial turf pitches, and tennis courts. These projects took 4 years to complete and cost £14m.

Kelly Sotherton breaking the British record for 100m hurdles at the Brunel Indoor Athletics Centre

At the end of that phase I moved into managing the University‘s Sports Scholarship Scheme and Performance Sports Programmes (taking the athletics team to the British Universities title in 2009) , as well as heading up the Brunel Hurricanes Netball Superleague franchise and working with UK Athletics on their Regional Performance Centre.  

Camilla Buchanan playing for the Brunel Hurricanes
Brunel’s men’s 4 x 100m relay team win the British Universities title at the Olympic Stadium in May 2012

When London was awarded the right to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games we saw it as a big opportunity for Brunel, and in 2009 I was seconded to work with Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Ian Campbell to run the University‘s 2012 programmes.  This work focused on securing big international teams for training camps, using our association with the Games to promote the University worldwide, and to get students involved in the Games as much as possible.  

And, how did I fare in these projects?  Well, after much promotion to teams from around the world I secured the Korean team for theIr Olympic training camp and the Canadian Athletics team for the Paralympics.  The preparations were exhaustive and when the teams were on campus the days and nights were long, but it was a thrill to play a part in the journeys of these amazing athletes.

Team Korea arriving at Brunel before the 2012 Olympic Games
Civic reception for Athletics Canada before the 2012 Paralympic Games

But that‘s not all!  In 2009 I secured Brunel as the European summer training base for Usain Bolt.  Usain and the Racers Track Club from Kingston Jamaica used the athletics facilities and accommodation on campus for 5 consecutive summers from 2009 To 2013.  At the end of that first summer my wife Liz and I went to Berlin to watch Usain run in the World Championships.   We were there the night that he ran 9.58s to break his 100m world record and the next day his coach Glenn Mills said to me, “it’s all because he trains at Brunel.”  That was only a tiny factor of course, but it was kind of him to say so.  

Hanging on every word. Sports Scholars Nick Leavey, Perri Shakes-Drayton and Shelayna Oskan-Clarke meet the great man at Brunel in 2009.

My blog from that time is still available to read Brunel 2012 Blog and the University‘s London 2012 special magazine (which I co-edited) is here .

A management change process at Brunel in 2014 moved sport from a student service to a commercial service and I took the chance to move from performance sport to community sport.

Brentford FC Community Sports Trust

From Brunel I went straight to Brentford FC.  I had been a Trustee at theIr Trust for a year before joining the staff.  At first I was asked to sort out a troublesome paddle sports facility and programme by the Thames at Kew Bridge.  I managed to get it in a reasonable order over a few months and then moved back to some more familiar territory, firstly managing an estate-based sports programme for young people called Motivate Hounslow and then leading an innovative health programme for male football fans; fanACTIV.

Alongside Tottenham and Fulham, Brentford were the first clubs into the fanACTIV pilot which was funded by the NHS Healthy London Partnership.  I brought a group of Brentford fans together in a programme of healthy eating workshops and exercise sessions.  They were all given a Fitbit and told to walk as many steps as possible during the week so that our team would beat the fans from Spurs and Fulham.  The step count was logged in real time and the league table online meant that the fans could give each other grief on Facebook.  It was life-changing for some of the guys involved.  One fan lost 18kg in 12 weeks and the group lost 5kg each on average.  

I ran a second fanACTIV group the following year, this time with fans from 6 more London clubs.  Again the results were brilliant and some of that group are still playing 5-a-side together 4 years later.  

Some of my fanACTIV boys taking on a Derby County FC group.

The fanACTIV model was definitely one that worked.  I was able to secure funding from Hounslow Council to roll it out across the Borough and in 2018 Richmond-upon-Thames Council also bought into the idea and funded a men’s weight management course which I called Move it to Lose it.  

Alongside the men’s weight management courses I organised a community exercise programme for Hounslow residents and managed the Borough’s family weight management courses.  In my last year there I also started to work with West London NHS Trust to deliver healthy lifestyles courses for people suffering from a range of mental health conditions.  

After 5 years at Brentford it was time for a change and to work for myself for the first time in my life.  The plan was to set up my healthy lifestyles business in West London but tumultuous changes of the COVID-19 lockdown period led Liz and I to take some time out in the Surrey Hills, an area that we have really taken to and where we are now basing ourselves.  

I am still working on Move it to Lose it for Brentford.  We finished the last 4 sessions of the winter course online via Zoom and the guys continue to work out with me remotely twice a week.  

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