MENtal Wellbeing : Male Body Image and Mental Health

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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.
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What Makes You Different? Don’t Let It Stop You!

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Over the past 10 years research has gained momentum in proving the benefits of regular exercise in helping a vast range of people – not just those looking to get buff or lose a bit of weight, and has given rise to it’s own specialisms within the fitness industry.

The term “special populations” is used to cover a variety of types of people but includes pre and post pregnancy, the elderly, and those with medical injuries and conditions from metal health issues such as depression to physical health issues such as disabilities, arthritis and cardiac rehab.

One of the key elements of resistance training is improving muscle strength (a consequence of which also helps improve bone density) and as such is used to help many people from broken or replacement bones, arthritis, and osteoporosis.

Cardiovascular exercise like walking, cycling and dancing all help improve and strengthen the cardiovascular system and so is used to benefit those with high BP, Asthma and helps reduce a person’s risk of heart disease.

The social aspect of interacting with instructors and fellow class mates or gym users as well as seeing improvements in your health & fitness levels, boosts self-esteem and can help with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

However, each person will have their own specific needs and can differ widely in terms of exercise limitations and how they should be approached when it comes to both designing and communicating a suitable workout.

For example in terms of programme design Diabetics should use steady and predictable movement exercises and avoid exercising late at night. Those with High Blood Pressure should avoid prolonged static holds and exercises where the feet are positioned higher than the head and needs very close monitoring of heart rates.

As such the industry has reacted by creating new and more specific qualifications to provide instructors with the knowledge to provide the best service possible for the customer, in ensuring that their health improves and many work closely with the person’s GPs, dietitians and/or physiotherapists accordingly.

In general for those that fall into a Special Population, extra care needs to be taken and clearance from their doctor or specialist should be gained before starting a new exercise programme. A number of Health Centres work closely with GP surgeries and Doctors are now able to prescribe exercise as part of treatment – in which case they will refer the person to a local Exercise Referral specialist, who will be able to provide a relevant training programme and which usually includes 2-3 months free or discounted use of the Health club’s gym or swimming pool depending on the persons training needs – so it is worth speaking to your GP first if this applies to you!

Otherwise – always seek guidance from a qualified instructor to make sure that you are getting a workout that is relevant to your specific needs and more importantly – safe!

In truth we are all different in one way or another – some of us are a little more different than others.

One of my friends and colleague, James Vincent suffered a horrific motorbike accident losing the use of an arm and had to have a leg amputated at the knee. Through his rehabilitation he got into weight training and discovered ways to adapt exercises to rebuild his muscle strength and mass and from helping others in a similar situation has since gone on to become a Personal Trainer and is now currently training to complete in his first Body Building competition and goes to show whatever makes YOU different – it doesn’t need to be a barrier to getting fitter.

Exercise doesn’t discriminate – it adapts and everyone can benefit.

You can read more about Jay’s story and follow his progress on his Facebook page here – give him a “like”!

Jay Vincent – Disability BodyBuilder

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Fitness Furries – The Health Benefits of Pets

Benefits of pets

If you’ve ever owned a pet, you probably already know how much fun and love they can bring, but they can also provide a number of mental and physical health benefits.

Studies have found that when compared to non-pet owners, those who have a pet are less likely to suffer from depression, have lower blood pressure in stressful situations and have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels  which are the indicators of heart disease.

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that dogs,cats and even reptiles, fulfill the basic human need to touch. Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with our furry friends. Stroking, hugging, touching or even simply watching our pets elevates our levels of serotonin and dopamine, which help us to be calm and relaxed.

Pets can bring about a number of healthy lifestyle changes such as – Providing structure and routine to your day, giving both joy and a sense of purpose (particularly if they have come from a rescue centre). They can also provide companionship  – helping to reduce loneliness or anxiety and improve self-esteem.

Dogs especially are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and improve cardiovascular health, where research has shown dog owners are far more likely to meet their dialy exercise requirements.  I should alos point out that many animal rescue centres are open to volunteer dog walkers if you are not able to have a dog in your home.

More than any other animal, dogs have evolved to become acutely attuned to human behavior and emotions. While dogs are able to understand many of the words we use, they’re even better at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures, as such can be trained to provide assistance to those with a disability, whether physical or metal helping to provide a better qualiy of life for the person.

But it doesn’t stop there….Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy from having pet.

As well as these benefits, owning a pet can have a number of negative impacts to your life, such as allergies, cost, long-term responsibility and time as well as their eventual loss. Each animal will also have it’s own personality and possible behaviour issues which may require additional time training and these should be considered before taking them home. Please also consider Rescue centres, as they offer a number of different pets not just dogs and cats, as well as providing options to adopt or perhaps act as a volunteer dog walker or play carer, so you can still get the same health benefits without as many downsides.