by Mitchell Vautin, Exercise Physiologist
Currently on average, seven out of every nine suicides each day in Australia are men. This can be attributed to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety which increase an individuals risk of self harm or suicide. The current statistics in Australia show that one in eight men will experience depression, and one in five will experience anxiety at some stage in their lives. These men are our brothers, fathers, sons, husbands, partners and mates and we all need to do our bit to look out for them. We can do this through education, increasing our awareness of men’s mental health issues and gaining greater knowledge of the tools and resources that can help these men.
The Big Issue
The Australian culture of toughness and stoicism surrounding speaking up about our feelings needs to change. Boys and men of all ages need to feel comfortable about speaking to someone when they are not feeling 100 percent so that the issues can be unpacked before it becomes a greater issue. We can all do our part to check in on those close to us, as well as utilising other resources and making those aware that help is available from places like White Cloud Foundation and other medical allied health professionals like General Practitioners and Psychologists. We need to make sure these men also know there is no shame in speaking up and getting help.
The Power of Exercise and an Exercise Professional
Exercise has been shown to be another helpful tool in alleviating the symptoms of the aforementioned disorders of Anxiety and Depression, in addition to other mental health disorders. Exercise intervention also has lasting effects on those suffering from mental health disorders. Studies have demonstrated on follow-up that patients with symptoms of depression twelve months after an exercise intervention showed long term improvements in their mental health.
How does exercise help men suffering from mental health disorders?
There a several mechanisms in which exercise can reduce the symptoms of mental health disorders. Some of the benefits of exercise are:
- Feeling relaxed and reduced muscular tension post exercise
- When we exercise we increase our core temperature (become hot and sweaty), this increase in temperature effects specific regions of the brain, including our brainstem which can lead to an overall feeling of relaxation and reduce any tension our muscles may be holding.
- Increased release of endorphins
- Endorphins are associated with positive mood and overall sense of wellbeing. Several studies have shown that endorphin levels increase following both single and multiple exercise sessions.
- Increased availability of important neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine)
- Bouts of exercise result in an increase in neurotransmitters in our blood. These same neurotransmitters are reduced with depression. Another mechanism in which bouts of exercise can undo some of the physiological changes that occur with mental health disorders.
So what sort of exercise should you be doing?
The most important thing to do is to start. Research has shown that those who are more physically active will have reduced incidence and severity of symptoms of depression . To start we recommend doing the form of exercise you enjoy the most, whether this be aerobic exercise in the form of walking, cycling, running or swimming, or resistance exercise including bodyweight or weight training. The outcomes for aerobic and resistance exercise to alleviate mental health symptoms are similar, so do what you enjoy! Once you’ve got going, the goal is to build the amount of physical activity you complete over time to reach the physical activity guidelines, which are accumulating 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, including muscular strengthening activities on at least two days per week. This will ensure you not only improve your mental health but improve your other aspects of health and reduce your overall disease risk.
Easier said than done.
Once you have started, how do you stay on board? How do you continue to improve? How do you know what to do?
This is where an Exercise Professional can help. An Exercise Professional is a University Educated health professional qualified and able to prescribe you a tailored exercise program that considers your complete medical history (this may include old or current injuries, any medication you take as well as your exercise likes and dislikes). An Exercise Professional can also assist in giving you the support you need to stick with your physical activity regime long term. They can do this through helping you set a goal.
Goal setting is a key element in retention to long term mental health plans. An Exercise Professional will ensure your goal is a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goal in order to achieve the best outcomes. The goal setting process and the goal will help keep you on board as well as assisting the Exercise Professional in developing an exercise program to help you best achieve your goal. Once you establish your routine it is valuable to set some physical activity based goals. Some examples of physical activity based goals could be:
“I want to be able to run 5km without rest, by the end of my 12 week exercise program”
“I want to lose 5kg by the end of my 8 week exercise program”
It’s important the goal is something important to you and something you value!
The Exercise Professional will then assist you in achieving your goal, reassess you at the end of the program and set a new goal to keep you moving forward with both your mental and physical health!
So if you or a male close to you is struggling with their mental health, don’t hesitate to get some help, whether that be professionally, or speaking to those closest to you. If you haven’t started a physical activity regime, start! Reach out to an Exercise Professional for some extra support to help you get the best possible results, long term!
Mitchell Vautin is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Director of Exercise Healthcare Australia. As a Clinical Exercise Physiologist Mitchell uses exercise as medicine to help people live longer, stronger and healthier lives. Mitchell believes there is an exercise program for everyone, no matter who they are or what their situation is. Over the past 6 years of practice Mitchell has worked with a multitude of different populations including sub-clinical, clinical and athletic populations from a diverse range of backgrounds.