The Australian Men’s Health Forum presents the fifth instalment of our summer series on health initiatives that help men stay connected through exercise.
While early coronavirus-enforced lockdowns saw gym equipment and bicycles sell out across Australia and more people took intermittent strolls for the permitted two hours of exercise per day, overall physical activity declined among male populations.
According to recent data, says Suari Price, who manages the Exercise Right platform at Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA), only 17% of men meet the physical activity guidelines in Australia. “Such a small percentage of people are doing enough exercise,” she says.
Those guidelines recommend 150 minutes of exercise plus two sessions of strength training a week. “If you look at the 150 minutes alone, you are looking at 50% of people that are meeting the guidelines. When you factor in strength training, it drops to 17%. With older men, it drops further.”
With age (for some) comes an increase in pain, injury and chronic disease. All are heightened if people have not looked after their physical health.
“People have the perception that if you are not fit or healthy you are not able to be exercising,” she says. “A lot of the work we do is around education and reminding people that exercise is for everyone, it’s not related to age and health. Everybody can and should be exercising.
ESSA is the peak professional body and accrediting authority for over 7000 university qualified exercise physiologists, exercise scientists, sports scientists and high performance managers.
They provide membership to its organisation, as well as educating people on the benefits of enlisting an exercise physiologist to safely map out options for improving their physical activity. This is not the same as having a physical trainer to help blokes bulk up in the gym. But strength training is a neglected part of many men’s routine she says, because of the connection with "beefing up".
“A lot of the research shows, for example into heart health, that the benefits of weight training are the same as with aerobic exercise,” she says. “They really do go hand in hand.”
ESSA developed a government-funded nation-wide Real Men Move program targeted at men and females who have a male partner, as a way of inspiring the men in their life. With resources available in multiple languages, it ran for 18 months and championed the mental benefits of exercise.
Every year for Men’s Health Week, the body releases a new campaign around the importance of exercise, and has developed a men’s health e-book, which talks about common health challenges faced by men and the role of exercise in reducing the risk of diabetes, cholesterol, depression and anxiety, high blood pressure, cancers (colon, prostate) as well as weight loss and improved levels of testosterone as they age.
This year’s ESSA Men’s Health Week theme will be around heart disease, the biggest killer of men.
Suari says while women are more open to group classes, many men have a pre-conceived perception of what group exercise looks like. “The best exercise is the best exercise for you.”
The popularity of smart sports watches to track activity, set up goals, monitor diet and play music underwater … has been a motivating force for a lot of men to raise activity levels, but Suari believes these devices do not foster long-term change. “The research around wearables is really mixed. That won’t be enough of a behaviour change. There’s got to be more to it than the FIT BIT.”
Be that as it may, 7000 steps can see a 40% reduction in early death, and any movement counts.
Her colleague Juliana Mahon spends a great deal of her work life educating health practitioners on how to have conversations with people they think might need more exercise. While some of the older generations of doctors are more “stuck in their ways” she says modern medicos are open to listening to the research.
Suari and Juliana’s top tips for improving health and well being
Understand your Why, your motivation. Find something that resonates, for example improving your health, mental health, mood, energy levels. Find something that resonates with you.
It doesn’t not have to be an all or nothing thing like an hour in the gym. Break up your periods of sitting. Start small. Anything is better than nothing.
Do something you enjoy. What is right for someone is not right for another, find something you like. Rock climbing, dancing, there are many ways to move. If you have a health condition, talk to an expert about what is right for you and safe for you.
Start conversations with your support systems. Your GP, your family, other people who care about you… someone to keep you on track and accountable. If you are afraid of starting exercise, just ask for help and advice from experts. Get the ball rolling without the fear of injury.
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