The importance of men’s mental health and exercise

RACV Club personal trainer David Renton encourages other men to consider their mental health and wellbeing during Men’s Health Week.

Our lives have rapidly and dramatically changed in the past three months because of the COVID-19 situation. Confinement to home, restrictions on travel and social-distancing measures have affected many of the things we love, such as eating out and going to the gym.

A common way to deal with such challenges is to keep our emotions in check. But if we avoid talking about the way we feel, or how these changed circumstances have affected us, that can have a negative impact on our mental health.

two men with their surfboards on the beach
woman doing yoga on the beach
man with backpack hiking through forest

We know how to improve our physical health and wellbeing by going to the gym, but how often do we sit back and work on our mental health and wellbeing?

Men’s Health Week, which is celebrated from 15 to 21 June, offers the chance to consider ways of looking after our mental health. On the Men’s Health Week website you’ll find a chart on men’s health facts, which shows that inactive men are 60 per cent more likely to suffer from depression than those who are active. 

According to Beyond Blue, one in eight men will experience depression and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives. “Blokes make up an average of six out of every eight suicides every single day in Australia,” Beyond Blue reports. 

Even more sobering is this comparison: “The number of men who die by suicide in Australia every year is nearly double the national road toll.” 

There are concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic will exacerbate the stress and anxiety that many people experience, but exercise offers hope.

The Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel states that exercise is a great way to improve your mood. “In fact, it is thought that exercise can be just as effective as anti-depressants in treating mild-to-moderate exercise,” the website reports.

Other benefits of exercise include: 

  • The release of feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved sleep and more energy during the day
  • A sense of accomplishment as your fitness improves and goals are achieved
  • Socialisation, while adhering to safe social-distancing practices
  • The chance to substitute an adverse habit, such as smoking or a high alcohol intake, with a new healthy habit
  • New experiences through different forms of exercise

So, having been presented with the facts, what’s stopping you from doing exercise? It isn’t a matter of trying to look like Mr Universe or about what you look like on social media, it’s about looking after your wellbeing. 

Exercise can be as simple as walking the dog, walking with your partner, riding the bike with the kids or doing a simple home workout. Hopefully, after reading this, you can see how exercise can assist men’s wellbeing.

From my experience, exercise is one of the best outlets for dealing with mental health issues. Calling a help line is no longer weak or emasculating, to the contrary, it represents strength. It’s also important to talk to your mates. 

This pandemic has changed life for everybody. It has created anxiety and challenged people’s inner resources. However, it is important to look at the small gains and the opportunities that have arisen. Exercise is one of those opportunities. Take it slow, stay controlled and deliberate in your training, and never be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help, both from a physical and mental health perspective.

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