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Revving up in the gym: New YMCA scheme aims to help improve clergy fitness

YMCA London South West has launched Vicar’s Vitality; a campaign designed to support local church leaders by giving them easy access to fitness facilities ...

YMCA London South West has launched Vicar’s Vitality; a campaign designed to support local church leaders by giving them easy access to fitness facilities.

As a charity established by church leaders more than 150 years ago, YMCA LSW’s CEO, Richard James, explained that they were keen to support those who, according to an article in the New York Times now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most groups in society.
“The New York Times article concerned us. And looking at our local church leaders we discovered that of the 100 on our database, seven had been signed off for long term sickness in recent years and months. We took this further with some local research and found that while they were not necessarily living the healthiest of lifestyles, the motivation was there to do so.

"From that basis, we wanted to ensure that their enthusiasm for exercise and a healthy lifestyle wasn’t wasted, and they had the capacity and support to do just that. Inspired by a similar scheme by the YMCA in the US we launched Vicar’s Vitality."
At launch events in early October, YMCA LSW staff signed up 10 local church leaders onto the scheme, offering 3 months free gym membership, followed by a heavily discounted rate afterwards. As with all gym memberships, the fee pays for unlimited access to classes as well as the Get Started Programme, which supports members with nutritional advice, goal setting and motivation during one-to-one appointments.

Lesley Charlton, Minister at the United Reformed Church in Kingston, was one of the first to take advantage of the scheme:
“I heard about it through the Chaplain at YMCA LSW. I’ve always loved aerobics, particularly Step classes. I am grateful to God for the joy exercise gives me and during the most demanding times in my ministry work, I have been kept sane by prayer and exercise. I love the YMCA for a range of reasons, but top of the list is that the money I pay for classes is used for Kingdom causes.”
Lesley has introduced two other members of the United Reformed Church to the scheme since joining herself. Richard James hopes that in the future, congregations may refer their church leaders onto the scheme if concerns are raised about their health and well-being:
“The Church and its leaders support our community in so many ways and we hope that this scheme goes towards solving that quandary of ‘who supports those who support us’. We want church congregations to know that if they’re concerned over the health and well-being of their church leader they can recommend this scheme and equally church leaders can refer each other.”
So, if you know a Vicar or church leader who could benefit from the ‘Vicar’s Vitality’ campaign then contact YMCA LSW’s Chaplain, Jacky on 020 8399 5427 or


In researching this campaign YMCA LSW discovered:
• Only 1 in 20 people are actually doing the right kind of activity they need
• Obesity is responsible for 9,000 premature deaths a year in this country, and is a major contributory factor to heart disease.
• Coronary heart disease (CHD) is still the leading cause of death in the UK, accounting for about a fifth of all deaths, according to the Office for National Statistics.
• About a third of deaths caused by CHD are among people aged under 75
• A New York Times article in 2010 identified how "Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could."
• A Presbyterian study in the US confirmed (what most know to be true) that clergy experience greater criticism and complaints than most laity.

Through YMCA LSW’s own research they found that of the church leaders who completed their survey:
• 70% had some form of medical condition that has required attention
• 80% skip breakfast at least once a week
• Nearly 50% consume alcohol up to 5 times per week
• Nearly 50% have a takeaway once a week
• Nearly 75% are motivated to exercise at least for a couple of hours a week

Pictured above on the treadmill is YMCA Director of Finance Rev Stuart Leamy

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