Society places many pressures and points of stress on the male gender, with men experiencing immense pressure to “live up” to what society expects or thinks they should act, feel, or do. From boyhood, men are told to be brave and ambitious; they strive to become good fathers, partners, and providers as they grow older.
Alongside this, men have often been characterised as the physically stronger sex; the modern image of being “a man” often means that men fall short of attaining the mainstream ideal and can slip into feelings of anxiety and depression.
This nature of unhealthy expectations can affect men’s mental health. Latest figures showed that 115 people die by suicide in the UK every week – with 75% of those deaths being male* and men are nearly three times as likely as women to become dependent on alcohol and to use drugs frequently.
This Men’s Health Week (12th–18th June), Lee Hawker-Lecesne MBPsS, clinical director at The Cabin, encourages men to look after their mental health by boosting their physical health. He discusses how men can challenge anxiety and depression through lifestyle modifications, improving their overall health and quality of life.
Lee comments: “Physical fitness is crucial for men’s mental health because the mind and body are interconnected. Engaging in regular exercise can have a positive impact on mental well-being and contribute to a healthier state of mind.”
Why physical fitness is important for men’s mental health
- Stress reduction: Exercise helps reduce the production of stress hormones, such as cortisol, while simultaneously increasing the release of endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. This can help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety, promoting a calmer mental state.
- Mood enhancement: Physical activity stimulates the production of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, neurotransmitters associated with improved mood and overall well-being. Regular exercise can help combat feelings of depression and enhance overall mental resilience.
- Increased self-esteem: Engaging in physical fitness and achieving fitness goals can boost self-confidence and self-esteem. The sense of accomplishment and improved body image can positively impact mental well-being.
- Improved cognitive function: Exercise has been linked to enhanced cognitive function, including improved memory, attention span, and problem-solving abilities. Regular physical activity supports brain health and can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
- Better sleep: Regular exercise promotes better sleep quality and duration, vital for mental health. Sufficient rest helps regulate mood, improves concentration, and increases mental clarity.
Physical activity and your mental health
Lifestyle modifications such as increased physical fitness can be important in individuals battling mental health issues. An essential component of lifestyle modification is exercise.
Fitness and mental health – How it works
Fitness that includes aerobic exercise – jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, and somatic movement has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. In a post-Covid age, these improvements in mood have never been more important. One hour of moderate-intensity exercise four days a week is sufficient for these health benefits.
Moreover, these 60 minutes need not be continuous; three 20-minute fitness sessions are believed to be as equally useful as one 60-minute individual session.
Based upon the physical fitness program clients undertake at The Cabin, here are some simple exercises men of all ages can undertake to improve their mental health:
- Aerobic exercises: Activities like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming are excellent for cardiovascular health and boosting endorphin levels. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week.
- Strength training: Engaging in resistance training using bodyweight exercises, weightlifting, or resistance bands can improve physical and mental strength. Strength training releases endorphins and helps build self-confidence.
- Yoga or mindfulness exercises: Yoga, tai chi, or meditation can reduce stress, improve focus, and promote relaxation. These activities combine physical movement with mental relaxation techniques.
- Outdoor activities: Spending time in nature, such as hiking, gardening, or participating in team sports, provides a refreshing change of environment and can have a positive impact on mental well-being.
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT): HIIT workouts involve short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief recovery periods. These workouts can be time-efficient and help release endorphins for improved mood.
Lee comments: “Fitness improves mental health; exercise-induced increases in blood circulation to the brain influences the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and, thus, the physiologic reactivity to stress. This physiologic influence is mediated by the communication of the HPA axis with several regions of the brain, including the limbic system, which controls motivation and mood; the amygdala, which generates fear in response to stress; and the hippocampus, which plays an important part in memory formation as well as in mood and motivation.”