MENtal Wellbeing : Male Body Image and Mental Health


With Movember coming to a close – this week I’m looking at men’s mental health.
Mental health issues for men is a growing problem with the Royal College of Practitioners reporting an increase of 66% in male hospital admissions.
It may be surprising (to some) but if you happened to spy on a men’s locker room – you’d see the guys checking each other out. Not in a sexual way, but merely as a way of sizing up the competition as it were. How muscular are they? How big are their genitals?… Friends may take the mickey or even praise each other on the size of their manhood!
However, in more recent years, what was previously classed as locker room “banter” is now starting to affect a guy’s mental state. Body image for men has some similarities as those for women but also some big differences – one of which being the lack of research and studies.
As men’s interest in fashion and fitness have increased, so has the number of images of the so-called perfect male body in magasines and on the TV. In addition to this, with the decline of the traditionally male industries, men have lost a source of masculine pride and identity and men are now finding their bodies being under close scrutiny.
Studies have found that men with bigger balls produce more sperm (and therefore more likely to become a father), whereas those with smaller balls were found to have greater intelligence (perhaps making them better fathers).  In a similar way, hair is production is linked to Testosterone levels so there was a thought that hairy men were therefore seen as more virile.  Both studies consequently then try to link these “attributes” to how attractive they would be to a potential partner!
When it comes to their body image – Men are generally told they should be tall, lean and muscular, have a full head of hair and a large penis. And while trends come and go, apparently gaining more popularity is facial stubble/beard, little body hair, and tattoos.
In the same way it has affected women – this now near constant barrage is starting to affect men’s mental health, with a range of differing Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. The extent of which can depend on the visibility of the body part, the ease of control over it’s state and the extent of it being a symbol of the person’s masculinity.
Both Male Pattern Baldness and penis size – can lead to obsessive behaviours. Such as constantly trying different treatments, gadgets and surgery – which can all rack up a large amount of debt – which brings further problems….
However the 2 biggest threats to men’s mental health as far as body image is concerned, are Anorexia and Muscle Dysmorphia.
11% of Anorexia sufferers are male and while it can affect men of all ages, more commonly it affects those between the ages of 14 and 25, with suffers obsessively doing a lot of high intensity exercise and under eating, with a view to getting as high a calorie deficit as possible in order to lose weight.
A recent study of male gym users found 1 in 10 suffered from Muscle Dysmorphia. The Opposite of Anorexia  – sufferers feel that they are never big enough, over-training and straining their muscles, eating  large amounts, taking supplements and fangerously, it can also lead to steroid abuse.
Both are serious conditions that can be fatal in their own right but it should be noted that all are underlined by depression, which can lead to alcohol and substance abuse and suicide is the single, biggest killer in men under the age of 35.
Although things are improving – men are least likely to open up or talk about their feelings and there is still a generalisation that those men that do are somehow “weak” – but guys it’s time to “Man Up”!
It’s time for us to be strong by not giving in to the stereotyped images and be brave by talking about how we feel instead of bottling it up.
We need to create a new ideal of what it is to be a man, and it starts by being you.

Burning The Midnight Oil: Surviving The Night Shift

Although Halloween was a couple of weeks ago, for anyone that works a night-shift – sometimes it can feel like you are living in a zombie apocalypse – the streets are empty and you’re so tired, you walk around in a dazed state.
On the odd occasion I’ve done it myself, and it’s like being on a long distance flight – very little sleep, permanent snacking, little movement from my seat, and when you finally arrive/finish your shift – you are so tired you almost fall asleep driving home and when you get there end up collapsing on the sofa completely drained – messing up your system even more!
The pitfalls and negative effects of night-shift work on your health are well documented. Night-shift workers have a higher risk of cardiac disease, mental health problems, obesity and cancer – and the lack of sleep can make you grumpy, aggressive and emotional. Juggling family and social life on top of it can add even more stress.
So this week I’m providing some tips on how to cope with it!
First and foremost, the key to surviving your shift, is making sure that you get 6-8 hours of sleep!
Depending on if it’s the start, middle or end of your shift pattern – it’s important to get some shut eye at the right time.
On the day of your first night shift, try and sleep-in as much as possible and have a nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon.
When you finish the shift don’t go to bed straight away – instead go to bed at a time equivalent to if you had finished work during the day ie. if you normally get home at 6pm and go to bed at 11pm (5 hours later), after your night shift, if you get home at 8am – then go to bed at 1pm.
Once you finish your stint of night shifts, to reduce the Jet Lag effect – when you get home, have a fairly large meal and nap for 3-4 hours before getting up again and then go to bed at your normal bedtime. A Melatonin tablet after your nap can also help to reset your body clock and get you through to bedtime.
2. Did I Mention Sleep?
Quality of sleep is just as vital, so it’s important to cool your bedroom, block out any light with thick curtains or tin foil on the inside of windows (or an eye-mask) and use ear plugs! If you’re scared this means you wont hear your alarm clock, then most fitness trackers have a vibrating silent alarm function (my other half is really grateful for this as I regularly have to be up at 4am!).
Try not to use your tablet or phone or watch tv while in bed and avoid having an alcoholic drink before hitting the sack, as although they all may help you to relax and get to sleep quicker – they affect the amount of quality deep sleep you need.
3. Prep Your Food
Food is another major issue, due to the lack of open cafes and shops most late night workers can fall into the trap of surviving off vending machines – so it’s important to prep! Take lots of healthy snacks and small meals, eating smaller portions but more frequently will help you avoid mid-meal cravings, help you to digest food more easily, which will then also help avoid stuffing yourself at “lunchtime” which can then make you feel even more tired.
Keep hydrated throughout your shift. Coffee or “Energy” drinks are fine for the start of your shift but should be avoided in the second half, so that they don’t affect your sleep.
4. Be A Vampire (only kidding)
Seriously though, daylight while on night shifts, is your enemy! When you finish your shift, wear sunglasses before heading outdoors. I even know some people that will use orange tinted glasses when at home to reduce the effect of sunlight coming in through windows!
At the end of your shifts, it’s quite the opposite and try to get as much daylight as possible after you’ve had your morning nap.
5. Take advantage of the quiet gym
We all know that exercise is good for us and it’s just as important if working nights. Most cities will have 24 hour gyms, otherwise gyms will usually open at 6 in the morning and close 10 at night, so you should be able to get into a gym or have a home workout either immediately before or after your shift – with the added luxury of the gym/pool being quieter and it can give you the energy to start your shift on a high or after your shift, help keep you awake till your bedtime.


6. Rethink your social calendar
Family & friends can also make working nights difficult – so don’t accept invites etc for during the day, just because no-one else is on nights. Remember sleep is your priority. Work things around YOUR schedule – play with your kids or help with their homework before your shift, and help get them ready for school when you get home in the morning.  Try meeting friends for “breakfast” rather than lunch or an evening meal.
For all you night-shift workers out there, have a good shift and if you’ve got any other tips – let us know!
Until next time…….

Do you REALLY hate exercise………?


I think we all know by now the benefits of exercise – improving your health, reducing risks of heart disease, as well as kerbing obesity to name a few –  but despite this you may be one of those people that says they hate exercise…..
But do you really hate exercise – I mean REALLY?
What I think you’re doing, is either making excuses, or it’s a particular form of exercise that you don’t like – so this week I’m going to try and persuade you otherwise…..
It Takes Too Long!
One of the biggest excuses is time – you have to get to the gym, get changed, spend 30-60 mins working out, then shower, change and get home again. This could be 2 hours on a good day and it is time that you could be doing more fun or useful stuff! Fair enough, the , recommended amount of daily excercise is half an hour, but if you’ve not done that much before, or thinking about how on earth you can try to carry on with this for the foreseeable future, it can be a little daunting – so why not start small! 5-10 mins a day is a great place to start and you can slowly build it up from there. Everyone can fit in at least 5 minutes (it works out at 0.5% of your day if you woke at 7am and went to bed at 10pm even working out for an hour is just 6.5%)  and since we’re starting small you can do it at home or at work and there’s no need to get changed saving you even more time 😉
I’ve Got Too Much To Sort Out!
Maybe you’re  someone that thinks they are simply not ready to start an exercise programme – whether that’s due to a lack of motivation or for the need to have other things in order first (like new trainers or needing to do a list of chores) and you’re sure you should be giving exercise 100% of your attention?
The ting is, if you want to do exercise then the motivation is there, so it’s not the motivation that’s stopping you – it’s the perceived “obstacles” that you are using as a delay tactic.
It’s a bit like when you’re trying to eat healthily, but someone at work brings in cakes- you have one as it would be rude not to, so since you’ve now broken your diet, you might as well start tomorrow….
but how long will this “getting ready” take? If you think about it, knowing the benefits it can bring, rather than putting it off and neglecting your health and well-being – surely eating well and doing some exercise is something you should be starting right now?
It’s Boring!
It might be that you think exercise is boring and being honest some form can be! Personally I can’t think of anything more boring than going on a 10k run or an hour long spin class – but again looking at it honestly there’s usually two things that are usually the truth behind the excuse – Time and difficulty. A 10K “run” would take me a long time and I find both running and cycling hard as it’s a pounding for your legs and no matter what you try to do to try and make it interesting with mud/obstacles courses (or great music and disco lights in the case of spin) – it’s just not enough to tempt me, which bring me to my final point….
As much as people can try and sell you something – if you don’t want to do something then don’t do it!
Doing some form of exercise each day is really important, not only does it bring amazing health benefits, but it keeps you thinking healthy in making other decisions such as with your diet – but t doesn’t need to be a full on 60 minutes in a sweaty gym.
The key is to find a form of exercise you enjoy, whether that starting by dancing to your favourite song, going for a walk on your lunch break, spending more time with your loved one between the sheets, playing with your kids in the park or trying to beat the time is takes you to hoover the house – there are lots of easy and quick ways of getting your heart pumping and your body moving and 5 minutes here and there soon build up!
Who know’s maybe this time next month – you might be looking into salsa classes, self defence courses, and hiking groups and in 6 months looking to run a half marathon, join a gym or start Ju-Jitsu. Who know’s what those 5 minutes today could start.
Why not comment and let me know what you do extra for those extra 5 mins – it might just inspire someone else.
Until next time…..

Too Good To Be True? Reviews in fitness


I’m sort of in 2 minds about reviews…..
On one hand I think they’re a great way of getting a better understanding of a product or service, I will always read them and I will also try and leave feedback too.  Recent polls say that 88% of consumers trust online reviews, so they are pretty important for any business or product – however personally, I will also take reviews with a large pinch of salt and try to put them in context.
Details & Usability
When it comes to an actual product, reviews can be really useful. Reviewers can provide product features and details that the manufacturers may not have mentioned – for example when buying clothing everyone knows that your size in one shop may be completely different in another, so I will look at the reviews to try and get an idea of the “fit” and will look for actual dimensions like the width of a T-shirt (I actually also do this in shops too and take a paper tape measure with the width of all my, and my partner’s, best fitting clothes [Jeans,T-Shirt,Shirt] marked on it, so I don’t have to try things on!) and I recently used reviews to help me decide on my latest fitness tracker purchase. Sales people will also try and “big-up” and exagerate the greatness of their products – but by reading the reviews you can pick up on the little nuances of a product in terms of practical daily use like battery life and quality.
Finding Reviews
When you’re buying fitness equipment and clothing,  reviews are really easy to find. Whether that’s direct with the manufacturer, a retailer or from independent review sites.
If you’re looking at clubs and gyms on the other hand –  both Trip Advisor and Facebook can be a great resource. I especially like Facebook because as well as being able to read reviews that people have left on a place, if the gym has it’s own Facebook page, you can read through the comments posted and what kind of responses the club makes. How a club responds to (or sometimes ignores) it’s negative comments is a great insight into their attitude towards it’s members.
On the other-hand, as I’m quite a cynical person I can be a little wary of some reviews within the fitness industry – though I’m sure it happens everywhere really!
A lot of PT’s and big names are sponsored by a number of brands. It can be clothing but especially with supplements it seems – they will forever be posting tweets on how great a particular pre-workout or whatever is or how using “X” has given them massive gains (!?!).
I’m not saying this is bad –  it’s great promo for the product as they get to reach a wider audience. However the ting to bear in mind is that the products are usually given to the reviewer for free so the vast majority of the reviews are naturally going to be positive about it – especially if it means that they will get more freebies.
Trainer Reviews
Finding reviews on PT’s and instructors is difficult! Many PTs will post their testimonials on Facebook, or post before/after pictures of their client’s.  It’s a great way to sell your skills in helping people to achieve their goals – people love seeing results!
This however is where my cynacism kicks in a little – it’s easy to write up a testimonial in a made-up name, or take and alter pictures and claim it’s down to your great workouts and motivation.
If you were looking for a builder or something similar, there are now a number of supposedly independent review sites like that you can use – but as yet there is no  real equivalent for PT’s.
There’s a couple of sites that are trying to do this but while a number of gyms and trainers are registering – the hard part is then getting people to leave reviews.
People can sometimes be reluctant to leave a review for an individual as it IS personal and in general we don’t want to publicly criticize someone – we would more likely do this in private. There is also the fact that as the general public are more than likely unaware of the site, the trainer would need to ask them to leave a review (and they’d only do this if they thought it would be a good one!).
It may be worth having a look at them though, as well as the REPS register to check on their accreditation and insurance status.
Register of Exercise Professionals
Review Tips
Since honest reviews of PTs are a little hard to find – here’s a few tips:
1. Do look at their website/Facebook page have a look at the reviews and pictures posted.  If the person in the picture or review is tagged or if it’s been shared from the person’s own Facebook feed, thanking the PT – then great!
2. If they post a lot about a particular product – do bear in mind they may have been given them as a freebie (YouTube introduced a rule recently where the person has to say if they got it for free and if it’s an advert rather than a “review”) however if they post about a number of products and are not ALWAYS positive then they can probably be seen as being more independent and honest.
3. While reviews both good/bad can be useful – do put them into context. We all have good/bad experiences, some people will have an “off” day or product may have been misused, or there may have been a clash of personality or product design flaw. Read a number of the reviews both good and bad and try to get an overall picture.
4. Sometimes you might not find ANY reviews – but this doesn’t mean that they are rubbish!  It might just be that they are new, don’t like to brag or that their client’s are not the type to leave public reviews.  If you can,  always try and get direct contact from a user – whether it’s finding the best trainers for running or even more so when finding a PT.  Speaking to someone that has used them, where you can ask questions about it is probably the best way of helping you in your decision.
Until next time…….