This week is International Men’s Health Week. When we talk about health we take into account physical and psychological wellbeing. This week is all about promoting healthy behaviours to empower men to take control of their own health.
It may be no surprise that the health challenges experienced by men and women can differ. Here are some statistics:
Some people might think that this is simply a matter of genetics and the biological differences between the sexes. However, it seems that other modifiable factors may do more of the heavy lifting.
I think everyone would admit that lifestyle factors play a role in our health – the usual sleep, diet, exercise and stress reduction tips. But actually, the role these play may be drastically underestimated.
It is estimated that 70% of our overall health can be controlled through lifestyle!
Regardless of genetics or family history of health conditions, we still have the capacity to take charge of our health. This is true in terms of disease prevention, but also can improve quality of life, physical capacity and keep us independent for longer.
Improving health via exercise
Physical activity can reduce the risk of nearly every disease under the sun, and in some cases this benefit is completely independent of other risk factors. For some people, the idea that they are predisposed to a condition, (e.g if they have a family history), is enough to deter them from prevention due to a feeling that poor health is inevitable. This simply is not the case.
So how much needs to be done? The short answer: any!
The Australian physical activity guidelines are a science-based recommendation regarding physical activity.
Ideally, physical activity could be built up to something around the recommended numbers. If you’re currently not very active, the above numbers may seem very daunting. The great news is that even little amounts of physical activity can have a major impact on health! Otherwise put, you do not necessarily have to complete 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity before you get any benefits.
Some new research suggests that running just once a week will reduce your risk of all-cause (i.e any disease) mortality by 27%! That’s running once a week! Even general walking programs can do wonders for your health, and in fact just about any activity that can get you puffing.
Look at the guidelines as a goal to aim for, rather than all or nothing: find your starting point and gradually build up. Most importantly, have fun with it! One exercise is not necessarily better than any other when it comes to health. Just pick something that can get you moving, puffing and working. It could be a walk, gym workout, lawn bowls with some friends, even frisbee in the park! You get the idea.
For example, say you walk once a week around the block for 10 minutes. Maybe the first step is to try to increase this to twice a week. Then the next week aim for three times a week. Making small changes is much more sustainable in the long term than trying to bite off too much in one go. Before you know it, you’ve significantly increased your physical capacity and improved your health. Nice job!
Where possible, putting in some form of resistance training is optimal. This is because it creates a more potent stimulus for adaptations within the muscle tissue which is crucial for our longevity. A study of 18 year old males investigated a correlation between pushups and the risk of cardiovascular disease. The difference between being able to do more than 40 pushups compared to 10 was a 96% reduction in cardiovascular events! It should be noted that they did not need to reach a threshold of 40 pushups in order to see benefit, the risk reduced as more pushups could be done. Little is significantly better than none.
When you think “resistance exercise” you may imagine heavy weights and technical workouts. However, resistance training can be anything that challenges the muscles, including using bodyweight, bands, external weights or even water.
Early experience of physical activity has been shown to result in more levels of physical activity going into adulthood, emphasising the importance of activity amongst children and adolescents. The attitude towards resistance training amongst adolescents has significantly changed. Once thought dangerous or detrimental, we now know that it is highly beneficial to muscle, joint and bone health. In the right conditions and under supervision, resistance exercise for children is highly recommended.
Physical activity benefits also extend to mental health, improving mood and quality of life.
Sleep – Getting adequate sleep duration, (7-9 hours per night) and good sleep quality can have a powerful effect on our health. Better sleep is also associated with reduced pain and improved recovery times for injuries. Practicing sleep hygiene, including no digital screens before bed, waking up and going to bed at consistent times and restricting caffeine later in the day can help with this.
Diet – A diet featuring good varieties of fruit, vegetable and whole foods, while reducing highly processed items is beneficial to our health. Like exercise, the ideal diet varies slightly from person to person. Further guidance to suit you in your circumstances can be provided by a nutritionist or GP.
Mental health – we are realising that our mental wellbeing is equally, if not more important than our physical health. In a similar way, we need to exercise and tend to our mind to optimise our mental health. Seeking help from your GP or psychologist can prove immensely helpful in this regard.
Knowing that we can take control of our health is empowering, and it does not have to be laborious. Any positive change towards bettering our wellbeing is certainly better than none and can be increased over time. Involving the right healthcare practitioners is crucial to build the right plan for you.
If you would like help with starting an exercise plan or looking for new ways to exercise, speak to one of our CSSM practitioners.
About the author
CSSM physio Hugh Feary has worked in GP clinics and private practice as well as a variety of local sporting teams including the Fremantle Dockers in the AFLW. Hugh enjoys empowering his patients with the information they need to manage their own health.
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Yang, J., Christophi, C. A., Farioli, A., Baur, D. M., Moffatt, S., Zollinger, T. W., & Kales, S. N. (2019). Association Between Push-up Exercise Capacity and Future Cardiovascular Events Among Active Adult Men. JAMA network open, 2(2), e188341. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.8341
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