You are a man. You may not always be “the man,” but being “a man,” historically, has come with expectations: being a provider and disciplinarian and possessing a strong body, a strong mind, and a stiff upper lip. Being a man is also associated with a greater chance of cardiovascular disease, mental health issues, and dying younger. Let’s change the narrative.
It’s biology, baby!
There are many preconceived notions of what a “real man” is. I’m not here to disparage masculinity, but it is important to challenge some of the conventions that contribute to negative health. Here are some outdated ideas about manhood that need some major updating.
Real men ooze testosterone
Testosterone (T) plays a significant role in the maintenance of physical strength in men over their lifetime; this is critical because greater strength is associated with lower mortality rates at any age.
Starting at age 35, the presence of T in the body declines by 1 to 3 percent per year (known as “andropause”) and is akin to the ironically named “menopause” experienced by women (which has nothing to do with men—go figure).
The good news is that decline can be slowed, and men can even increase their T through exercise. Exercises that can be performed in high volume and with a significant metabolic demand, such as squats and deadlifts, are most effective for boosting T levels.
Real men eat burgers and beers
Believe it or not, Dietary Guidelines for Americans does not differentiate diets between men and women. That’s because the basic principles are the same. One of those principles? That processed foods are inordinately high in calories compared to nutrients, and often contain excess sugar, sodium, and trans fats, which are the bad boys of health. They feel good at the time, but they’ll just break your heart.
My advice is simple: choose from a wide variety of foods, directly from the source—before they’ve been processed and transformed beyond recognition. And for Pistol Pete’s sake, drink some water instead of a beer at dinner. Your body will thank you with better function and lowered risk of chronic diseases.
Real men bring home the bacon; women take care of the family
Long gone are the days of Ward and June Cleaver. In the last 50 years, the percentage of women represented in the workforce has increased by over 25 percent. That means a more balanced approach to domestic life.
You may want to escape to the man cave, but research shows that spending more time with your family is good for your mental and physical health, and good for theirs. Shockingly, this directly contradicts the result of quality time spent by Jack Nicholson with his family in The Shining (“Daddy’s home!”).
Real men don’t go to the doctor unless they’re missing a limb
For crying out loud, don’t rub dirt on it. A sprained ankle or sore back is one thing, but if you’ve got a mysterious lump, dizziness, or numbness and tingling, go see a doggone doctor.
Do you know why women live longer than men? Because they’re less likely to ignore their body’s warning signs, and let’s be honest, they do fewer stupid things, too. Fun sidenote: a study found lower 30-day mortality rates in hospitalized patients following treatment by female internists versus male internists.
Real men don’t cry (unless their team loses the big game)
According to registered psychotherapist Daryl Vineberg, “There is an enduring belief that men need to ‘hold it together.’ We have fears around ‘falling apart,’ because of what it might mean to both ourselves and others. But this robs us of the experience of reaching out for support and connecting to others in our vulnerability.”
One of my oldest friends, Paul Marlow, is the creator of Never Alone, a platform that demystifies mental health and offers tangible advice, real-world experience, and a place for people to connect over mental health care.
Men and mental health
I sat down with Paul Marlow, creator of Never Alone, for a Q&A session to gain some insight into the world of mental health fitness.
[Q]: Your platform, Never Alone, focuses on the importance of mental health by openly sharing your own journey. What steps have you taken to improve your own mental health? What was your first critical step?
[A]: Understanding the value of a well-crafted morning routine was critical to shifting my mindset. The understanding and patience to create a 45-minute routine allowed my brain to slowly wake up and feel ready to take on what was outside the front door, plus give me the confidence to dive in fully.
[Q]: You stress that addressing mental health issues is intentional and strategic. What resources have you accessed or might you recommend for someone looking to improve their own mental health?
[A]: All the resources I needed are at my fingertips: exercising (outdoors), eating well (fresh whole foods), meditating (downloading an app), journalling (pen and paper). I also chose to invest in weekly therapy; I recommend others look at it as an investment as well.
[Q]: What have you found to be the most beneficial to your physical health, while positively impacting your mental health?
[A]: I absolutely back daily exercise for aiding mental health. The biggest hurdle in connecting the two is setting too lofty a fitness goal with too few incremental goals to achieve it. To get the most, mentally, out of an exercise routine, you need to be realistic. All good things take time; value the process and celebrate any small wins. I just picked up rowing during the pandemic, thinking it was only a cardio workout. Boy, was I wrong! I’ve dropped pounds and gained muscle, but most importantly, I’ve gained confidence in myself.
[Q]: Is there a nutritional component to your mental health?
[A]: This was my last barrier to cross. Not until a year ago did I realize the damaging effect sugar had on my anxiety. Now I try to eat home-cooked meals with complex carbs and easily digestible options. I still live life and enjoy ice cream and cake occasionally, but I pick a time and place.
Marlow has built a supportive community of resources and advocates. You can follow him @TallPaulsLife for daily tips and resources!
If you’re half the man you used to be, due to health reasons that are within your control, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and all those around you. It’s not too late to become the best version of yourself. Eighty-four days is the average time it takes to make a new action a habit.
Over the course of your life, that’s nothing. And if you think that’s powerful, you should know that your actions can influence your partner and those around you; if you model positive self-care through diet, exercise, mental health, and wellness, they’re far more likely to as well.
Common micronutrient deficiencies in men
|vitamin D||bone health maintenance, decreased risk of cancer mortality, mood stabilization|
|vitamin B12||brain support, red blood cell genesis support, energy booster|
|magnesium||muscle repair, neuromuscular facilitation, blood sugar control|
|zinc||sleep support, digestive support, reproductive organ support|
Want to add another health decade onto your life? A 2018 article in the journal Circulation identified five lifestyle factors that make a difference.
Eat a healthy diet—high in variety, healthy fats, proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
Exercise regularly—150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week, including two resistance training sessions.
Consume alcohol in moderation—men should have no more than one drink per day.
Don’t smoke—or quit smoking as soon as possible; it’s never too late!
Maintain a healthy weight-to-height ratio—or body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9.