A FORMER boxing world champion believes training like a fighter can help people overcome mental health issues.
Duke McKenzie, who owns a fitness centre in his name in Westow Street, Upper Norwood, was a world champion at three different weights before retiring in 1998.
The Croydon resident, 50, has been working with mental health charity Mind for seven years, and takes groups of people recovering from breakdowns or mental health problems for sessions in his gym.
He takes groups for ten-week blocks of training sessions, in which they follow a programme of boxing drills.
Duke said: "Boxing is a very unique sport and a very traditional way to train as a form of keeping fit, but also it helps your overall wellbeing.
"It is also definitely the case that your mental state is linked to your physical state.
"People come to my gym because are trying to reintegrate. They can't go to mainstream gyms because it would be too much for them. It can be intimidating, whereas our sessions are more friendly.
"I love the work I do with Mind – it's by far the most rewarding thing I've done since I stopped boxing."
Duke is currently coaching his nephew and former Crystal Palace footballer Leon McKenzie as he embarks on a professional boxing career.
But the sometime TV commentator said he has no real interest in coaching professional boxing.
He added: "I coach my nephew Leon because he is family but I have had offers that I have turned down.
"I was asked by a current world champion to get involved, but I turned it down because that's not really what I want to do."
In fact, Duke is now hoping to take his work with Mind to the next level.
"I am taking a counselling course in the new year and I want to do a psychology course after that," he said.
"People from Mind tell me I've got a real knack for this sort of thing.
"This is something I want to get more involved with and I'm doing these courses because I know where I want to be in five years' time.
"There are two people who were in my first-ever Mind group who now work with me on a part-time basis.
"You know, everybody's got a gift, everybody's got some sort of use, you just have to find it."
For more information on Mind go to www.mindincroydon.org.uk or call 020 8668 2210.Reporter Andrew Jameson won a prize for becoming Mind in Croydon's 1,000th Twitter follower - a session at Duke's gym... So, as someone who has only been to the gym after winning competitions (i.e, never), I was a bit miffed to find that lucky person was me. On arrival, Duke was pounding away at the step machine as the salsa music pumped out of the speakers. There were a few niceties, but Duke pointed me quickly to the neighbouring step machine and told me I would be his training partner for the evening. The ensuing cardio workout saw me complete 15 minutes of stepping and 15 minutes of cycling, and then it was time for the age-old boxing tradition of skipping. While every skip I took looked like I was jumping a hurdle, Duke's legs barely seemed to be moving. "I'm quite good at skipping really," he said, as I was tangled up in rope. Finally, after 45 minutes of physical hardship, it was into the ring. It is, Duke says, all about technique, rhythm and not trying to punch too hard. What it definitely is, though, is more tiring than it looks. But Duke is right – my mind felt better after a hard week's work. Although I felt quite stupid when he caught me out three times in the ring with the old "your laces are undone" trick!