Men’s Health Week #5: Getting Active!

Posted on 19-06-2016 by Adam Carver

It’s Men’s Health Week, and the theme this year is stress. Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever. Also being physically active and less sedentary is important for good health, both physical and mental. But do you know just how important it is and why?

With recent evidence (Survey of Exercise & Physical Activity in LGB&T Lives) suggesting that gay and bisexual men are less likely to be engaged in regular physical activity, it begs the questions, “how could I be more active?” and “how have we as a community responded to this issue?”, but we’ll come to that later……

Men's Health 1Firstly “Why we are less active as a community?”

There are common reasons that cut across society, and include: perceived lack of time, injuries, illness and mobility issues, a lack of interest or motivation and availability or accessibility of facilities. Add in the extra barriers faced by gay, bisexual men wishing to take part in mainstream sports or group activity (Out for Sport), and we face a set of interrelated factors causing us to be more inactive as a community than our heterosexual peers.

You may say, “But I feel OK, do I really need to?”

In short, YES! According to the World Health Organisation, after smoking, physical inactivity is the most important factor you can change to lower your risk of chronic diseases, including some cancers. A sedentary lifestyle can double the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.

Research shows more physical activity can improve your health and wellbeing, throughout life in the following ways:

·         Control Your Weight.

·         Reduce Your Risk of Cardiovascular Disease.

·         Reduce your risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome.

·         Reduce Your Risk of Some Cancers.

·         Strengthen Your Bones and Muscles.

·         Improve Your Mental Health and Mood.

·         Help manage stress.

What can I do as an individual?

The NHS guidelines for physical activity state that adults aged 19-64 should try to be active daily and should do:

·         at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week (about 20 minutes a day)

·         strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

That sounds a lot, so what could that mean practically for you if you haven’t exercised in a while or ever? Physical activity is not just structured exercise and it doesn’t have to be gruelling. Any activity that works the major muscle groups, such as walking, gardening, and even cleaning your home, is usually demanding enough to offer benefits.

Any physical activity is better than no physical activity. The simple ideas below can begin to build up your stamina and energy levels and easily be woven into everyday life.

Take the Stairs.
It really is an easy one if you’re mobile enough to. Climbing stairs is one of the best exercises, and it’s free. Initially, if you have to go up two floors or fewer, take the stairs. Likewise if you have to go down three floors or fewer.

Squeeze in short brisk walks throughout the day.
If you don’t have time for a full workout, don’t worry. Short bursts of activity, such as 10 minutes of brisk walking spaced throughout the day, offer benefits too.

Get up earlier.
If you’re struggling for time due to a hectic work or social life, get up 30 minutes earlier twice a week to exercise. Once you’ve adjusted to early-morning workouts, add another day or two to the routine.

Commute using active & public transport.
Birmingham has a great and evolving cycle network, including the city’s canals. Why not use it or get the bus, tram or train, even just a few times a week? You can even do some discrete stretches while you wait for the bus.

Drive less, walk more.
Park a few streets away and walk to your destination.

Change the focus of your regular social activity. Your weekly Saturday coffee with your mates could become your weekly walk, bike ride, swim (and coffee).

Join a community sports group.
Birmingham has a great array of all ability LGBT sports clubs, which are easily accessible for beginners. They also offer great social interaction too, so win win.

What If I experience physical mobility issues?

Health issues that make activity and movement difficult such as obesity, back pain or persistent fatigue are a common barrier to regular participation in physical activity. Find an activity that doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable. For example, swimming and other forms of water activity are an excellent if your mobility is impaired.

How has the LGBT community responded to this issue?
The good news is we are responding to this issue as community by providing safe spaces to participate in physical activity, as evidenced by the wealth of LGBT sports groups and clubs up and down the UK. They have the added value of being great social spaces, so are also good for our general feeling of wellbeing, connecting us with our community and peers. It’s all too often easy to see an issue in the community, such as higher rates of physical inactivity, as a problem to be solved by external agencies. However, by harnessing the skills, energy and passion in our community, we can often be part of the solution to these complex problems.

So what can you do? Join in! Support the thriving sports clubs and walking groups in Birmingham such as Birmingham Bulls RFC, Birmingham Blaze FC, Birmingham Swifts, Moseley Shoals, TAGS, Birmingham Bluefins and Midlands Out Badminton or Rainbow Rambles, Bootwomen and GOC. Take part in the Activate classes programme at the LGBT Centre, or join groups like Outdoor Lads for country based activity such as camping and rock climbing.

None of that for you? Then why not start your own activity? It could be as simple at using an internet tool such as Meet Up to organise an LGBT kick about in the park, or a social walk. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, new clubs and events have flourished recently such as Rainbow Rambles, Swifts, Table Tennis, Hula Hooping and Tennis. If you fancy something, just give it a go! There is advice on offer to help you through the set up process. After all, you’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Finally.

It’s important to remember that being physically active, at a level that works for you, should be part of an overall approach to improving and/or maintaining your health and wellbeing.

David Viney is Health & Wellbeing Manager at Birmingham LGBT