The Three Foundational Pillars for Men's Health
When February comes around, many people are either starting to feel resistance to their New Year’s Resolutions or looking for a way to reinvigorate their fitness goals. We are inundated with messages from health professionals preaching about how fitness is a lifestyle, with very little explanation of what this means at the personal level.
I have been a certified personal trainer for almost a decade, working with clients to achieve their fitness goals. Everyone has their own reasons for seeking out assistance, from improving on their technique, to rehabilitation from nagging injuries. Many train to alter their physical appearances or to enable their pursuits in sports and other hobbies.
In my experience, male clients especially tend to focus primarily on short-term, observable changes rather than considering the long-term benefits of physical activity and behaviour change. It is important to have a larger perspective on fitness is in order to stay continually motivated, find physical and mental balance, and settle into a lifetime of health and wellness.
I have found that the following three pillars are critical elements for men to design their healthy lifestyles around.
1. Relaxation. You can eat all the right foods, do all the right exercises, never touch alcohol and buy all the supplements in the world, but if you don’t look to decrease stress, your body will age more rapidly and chronic conditions will come knocking. Physical activities for men are often skewed towards more intense, adrenal fatiguing pursuits such as sprinting, heavy weight lifting and mixed martial arts. While these activities allow men to connect with their masculinity, they may cause further release of stress hormones.
Balance strenuous physical activity with slow moving, breathing-focused exercises. From yoga to easy hikes, allow yourself time to decompress. If you find that work follows you home, perhaps consider taking up a meditation practice to create some space away from external noise.
2. Function. For me, function is the ability to move your joints through their range of motion with little to no pain. Gray Cook’s Functional Movement Screen provides a basic system to begin looking at strength and mobility. Men have a commonly held belief that once they reach a certain age, pain or stiffness is simply inevitable. Perhaps the causation should be reversed in that the tendency towards decreased movement may be causing the decreased function.
A good strength and mobility routine is the foundation to longevity. One resource that I have used is Kelly Starrett’s “Becoming a Supple Leopard”, a comprehensive yet plain-language body of knowledge which elaborates on proper movement in strength training.The body responds well to weight-bearing exercises and movement around joints - gravity is your friend. Astronauts in space are very susceptible to muscular atrophy because they don’t have to support the weight of their bodies.
3. Self Concept. We are visual creatures and tend to strive towards a certain physical ideal, regardless of whether this is an achievable goal. However, this lofty third pillar extends beyond the superficial physique to how you perceive yourself as a person. Take the time to understand your preconceived notions about your own abilities. This can help unlock some of the barriers that may be preventing you from reaching your fitness objectives, and will also help build more realistic health and fitness goals.
Having grown up as a stocky rugby player, I had unconsciously placed boundaries on my fitness and abilities by assuming I would not be capable of performing long distance endurance activities and mobility practices. I found that by opening my mind and questioning my previously-held believes, I have become more well-rounded in my health and fitness pursuits.
My objective in writing this article is to start a process of reflection on how well-balanced your lifestyle is with regards to the pillars of stress, function and self-concept.
What helps you decompress?
What keeps your body functioning as it did when you were young?
What revelation did you have that allowed you to expand your fitness goals?
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”