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Men, Mental Health & Exercise
One of the tragedies towards the wellness of youth in this country was when P.E. at secondary school became an optional subject from Year 11 onwards. Yep, I hated P.E too but the net result of this thoughtless decision was that many youth did not opt into exercise as part of their daily choice. Undoubtedly, in my opinion, the rise in mental health difficulties in youth has paralleled the decline in exercise activity for this cohort of young kiwis. Although affecting both men and women, I think it is men who have suffered most from this scandalous decision.
Men and young men in particular, tend to be reluctant to seek help when suffering mild to moderate depression or anxiety and generally only seek help when they become severely distressed. We see this at our service with a disproportionately low number of men seeking help versus women. Although this gap is shifting with more men utilising counselling as one way to help, it is a slow change (in 2004 28 per cent and in 2011 34 per cent of all presentations were men). Given that the evidence suggests men and women experience mental health problems equally, the disproportionate rate of presentation means there are undoubtedly young men who are depressed or anxious to an extent that it negatively affects their daily life in our student population, which we do not see or that do not seek some sort of help. Clearly, that is no good for any of us if we value community and inclusion.
However, recent research (and common sense) has shown that men’s mental health will benefit from moderate exercise. “Exercise on its own is sufficient in significantly reducing depressive [and anxiety] symptoms among…young men” (Nadine McGale 2011). The growing body of evidence to support this claim reminds me what I already know when counselling young men, that is that moderate exercise has a positive effect on mood states including stress, fatigue and anger, it can even benefit sleep. In working with men as a counsellor I also see significant shifts in their mental health when they do engage in exercise and sport. It is bloody hard to get going into exercise if it is not part of =life, that is for sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It is clear to me that exercise must form part of a man’s weekly if not daily activities toward wellbeing and health.
SO WHAT TO DO?
See your GP if you are concerned about any health issue that may need checking before you do some exercise. Exercise comes
in many forms, find something that you enjoy; running, swimming, dancing, yoga, cycling, organised sport, squash, energetic walking, gym work (the list is endless). The key to benefiting from exercise is that you DO SOME EXERCISE; the type doesn’t matter to start with.
Student Counselling, Student Health and the Recreation Centre have combined to offer students who may benefit from engaging in exercise but can’t get going, a structured four week exercise programme to help. This programme is ‘Lifting our Spirits’ and you can find out about it by talking with a counsellor or your SHS GP.