Posts made in July, 2014

Guyside: A few simple tasks — no crunches required

Posted by on Jul 30, 2014 in aging, appearance, Boomer, colon cancer, Guyside, health, general, men | 0 comments

If you (and I DO NOT recommend it) judged what male health was all about by looking at popular culture, I think it could be summed up in one word: abs. Walk past a magazine rack and it’s all abs, all the time. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

When it comes to health, we men can be our own worst enemy. According to the US government’s Medline, men are more likely to smoke, to drink, to ignore symptoms, to put off health care visits, and to make risky health choices. So today, a few simple tasks to get you back on track if you’ve strayed.

#1: The next few times you’re at a pharmacy, use the automated blood pressure checker. If it’s high compared to the guidelines printed on the machine, DON’T ignore it. Follow up.

#2: Get a cholesterol check. This is especially important if you have a history of heart disease, but it’s a good idea for everyone.

#3: If you’re getting drunk regularly, slow down. Binge drinking isn’t good for anything and it’s pretty bad for your health.

#4: This is a tough one for a lot of guys. Colon Cancer. At its least invasive, you do one of those smear your poo on a stick and then on a test strip thing. Gross, but not too bad. The finger’s next. Sigmoidscopy and colonoscopy are the final frontiers, so to speak. I am a little squeamish about stuff related to the old intestinal system, but you know what? SUCK IT UP. It’s important.

#5: if you’re smoking? Stop. There’s nothing good for you there.

And the final tip: to borrow from the Homeland Security stuff, if you see something, say something. When I got diagnosed with bladder cancer, it was because I acted when I saw blood in my urine. If you see something abnormal related to your body, take action.

It’s easy to buy into the old lie that you’re invulnerable, that you haven’t changed since high school, even when you’re buckling your belt on a new hole and your hair is disappearing. And if it helps you in your job or your personal life to tell yourself that story, that’s fine. But when it comes to your health, holding to closely to the convenient delusion could be a life-threatening decision. Don’t do it.

Image: Creative-commons licenced from Flickr user Ed and Eddie

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GUYSIDE TAKEOVER #3: Choose your masks wisely

Posted by on Jul 25, 2014 in emotions, Guyside, Inspiration, men, musings | 0 comments

I have been listening — against my will — to a lot of “new country” music over the last couple of weeks. And let me tell you, it’s not to my taste. My tastes are very broad when it comes to music, but 90 per cent of what I heard — from “Drunk on a plane” to “River bank” — I disliked.

And it got me thinking, all these songs. It reminded me first of this video that I saw a while ago: “Why country music was so awful in 2013.”

And then I got to thinking that this whole country music thing is an example of people putting on a mask that they want to be their persona. The concepts in country’s top hits right now don’t really relate to real life as I think of it. In Canada, we’ve never been more urban as a population. But the songs people seem to listen to are decidedly rural. People drive trucks that they rarely use for their original purpose, and trucks that are incredibly luxurious compared to those of the past.

I’m a folkie, and a lot of the music that I listen to seems to reflect my reality, and I feel (I am perfectly ready to admit I’m being hypocritical if challenged) that the country music hitting it big doesn’t reflect generalized reality.

Billy Joel once wrote:

Well we all have a face
That we hide away forever
And we take them out and show ourselves
When everyone has gone

I think men are more likely than women to put on those masks. From our hildhood we’re encouraged to do it. “Big boys don’t cry”, “be a man”, peer pressure: we’re pretty darn likely to find a persona that we put on to please others. I certainly did.

But the thing is — we don’t have to choose those masks, and we don’t have to live up to any pop culture stereotypes. Wanna be a cowboy? That’s cool. But look critically at the features of whatever mask you’re putting on.

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On Why We Need to Reclaim Realism

Posted by on Jul 23, 2014 in appearance, men, musings | 0 comments

Power of glamour

In an article from TIME magazine last year, Virginia Postrel writes about The Twisted Allure of Jihadi Glory. While it features the outcry over the Rolling Stone cover featuring Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, it poses a bigger picture question on the power of glamourization.

Postrel shares a quote from novelist Salman Rushdie, no stranger to controversy himself as the author of the 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. Asked about what motivates suicide bombers, Rushdie’s answer is illuminating:

Terror is glamour – not only, but also. [Terrorists] are influenced by the misdirected image of a kind of magic… The suicide bomber’s imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other people’s lives.

As Postrel shares in her piece, Rushdie hits the nail on the head when it comes to how glamourizing something offers an incentive to act upon, to increase the perception of who we are and how we act, which made me think of how glamour warps our everyday lives.

The Power of Glamour

You can go back to virtually any point in history, and you’ll find countless examples of glamourizing something that was anything but.

In her piece, Postrel talks about martial glamour – or how war seemed glamourous to those that would follow in their leader’s footsteps. She talks about Achilles from ancient Greece, but you could also look to the poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred Tennyson, to see how war was glamourized.

Forward, the Light Brigade!
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
 Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
 Rode the six hundred

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
 All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
 Noble six hundred.

Until the First World War and its huge loss of life, war was seen as a heroic endeavour. Today, we think differently – and yet, as Postrel’s piece shows, some of us don’t.

This is the problem with glamourization – how do we reel in what we encourage blithely?

The Persuasion of Hope

Marketers and brand advertisers have been using glamour in a bid to create desire and action within their target audience for years.

Think back to the black and white movies of the 40’s, where the movie stars of yesteryear would happily smoke on-screen and be regarded as sexy and sophisticated for it. Today, we know the dangers of smoking – just over 70 years ago, it was actively encouraged.

Or look at the success of magazines like Vogue and Elle, that portray perfect women that rarely reflect society’s real women and their various shapes, sizes and lifestyles.

These examples, and others like them, build on the desire of their audience(s) to be more like the actors on screen or the models on the page, as opposed to being happy with who they are.

By  tapping into this powerful hope, or desire, brands use the power of persuasion that people need to be something they’re not in order to be valued.

As Postrel shares in the TIME article, that value can come from making powerless people feel significant. In advertising and marketing, that value can come from answering the “if only” question.

  • If only I had a better job;
  • If only my car was as cool as my neighbours;
  • If only I could look good in that tiny bikini;
  • If only. If only.

The problem is, even those we aspire to be like aren’t perfect. Magazines take perfectly good-looking people and airbrush them to an even higher plane of “perfection”. Movies use focus filters and post-production effects to showcase their stars in the best light.

By creating an unrealistic desire, we’ve created a culture of hope that can never be met – at least, not until the next campaign where we can start it all over again.

Realism and Reclamation

The problem, of course, is that to deny hope, we deny growth and our future selves. Why shouldn’t we want to reach for something we don’t have, or be like someone we admire?

The thing is, we don’t need to deny ourselves. We should do all these things, and more. But we should do it realistically.

We need to stop promoting the idea that unrealistic imagery is the norm. Individually and in a wider context, we need to understand that glamour is only a facade of what realism truly is. To continue to glamourize our perfect selves doesn’t help us grow – it merely stunts us, and that benefits no-one.

It’s not as if we need to play the glamour card, either.

These are important steps from the types of companies on the front line that can truly initiate a different way of thinking. But they’re just the first steps.

As marketers, we need to be able to instil desire without taking the lazy way out. As businesses, we need to be more realistic on who our target audiences are and what they really feel, and need.

More importantly, as men – in marketing, advertising and plain old life – we need to look at women the same way we do each other. After all, when was the last time you saw a guy photoshopped to the Nth degree to present a false idea of sexiness to women?

Hopes and dreams are one thing. Selling hopes and dreams is another, and it’s the latter that can make the biggest leap to connecting the two together.

It’s time to see who’s up to the challenge.

image: Julian Rodriguez Orihuela

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GUYSIDE TAKEOVER: finding “aging” inside “changing”

Posted by on Jul 21, 2014 in aging, Guyside | 1 comment

FlashFree is all male this week! While Liz takes some time to enjoy herself, we’re going all-Guyside all the time. I hope regular readers can withstand the onslaught of testosterone. I promise not to post about cars and sports. Too much. — Bob. 

Living a long time is everyone’s goal. And the changes in our aging bodies can creep up on us, the way that you don’t notice a child growing up until he or she goes away for a time and then you look and realize “Wow, you’re six inches taller!”

There’s no doubt that you can do things to minimize the march of time. Some people swear by statin drugs as the magic pill to extend life. Others, like futurist Ray Kurzweil, are gobbling vitamins in large doses to ensure their survival to see the glorious future that awaits us all. Whatever your strategy, I’ve got a couple of ideas about this stuff I want to share.

First: maybe we need to do a personal inventory — physical, spiritual, emotional — at some regular interval. I know that if I were to chart my physical fitness from one year to the next over the last few years I’d see some significant swings, mostly based on how much cycling I’m doing. My emotional fitness too, depending on what things were happening in my life. For example, I’ve no doubt the year my dad died my emotional fitness would have been down. No wonder! For a while (until I emptied the bottle), I had a bottle of single-malt Scotch that only got opened once a year on my birthday. I’d have a birthday dram and scribble a note on the box to say what was happening when I had it. Maybe we should take a little time — on our birthday, perhaps, or New Year’s Day — and assess our selves. What’s changed since the last time? Where are we at in our lives? What would we like to see change over the next 12 months? Write it down, put it somewhere. If nothing else, it might be an interesting experience to read the previous entries.

Second, time is inevitably going to reduce our abilities. 20 years ago, I prided myself on my skills as a glutton. I can remember epic nights with friends where we’d eat countless chicken wings or endless slices of pizza or bottomless hot-fudge sundaes. That doesn’t happen now. I could survive on a couple of hours of sleep if I wanted to and never feel I needed to “catch up.” Not any more. Those are minor changes, compared to some of those I see my mom struggling with, but there’s one important lesson that I’m seeing. Those changes are quicksand, or they’re an undertow in the water. If you fight them, you exhaust yourself. If you remain calm, let them take you, and then gently push against them, you can regain some sense of control.

Third, we need to balance being done for and doing. I might not want to move house myself at this point in my life. My mom, for example, has difficulty with bending over and picking stuff up. It makes her breathing difficult. But she’s having a difficult time stopping herself from doing it. Her motivation is there but she’s unwilling to accept the limitations that her aging body is placing on her. It’s a complicated balance. For a child of a senior, part of you wants to see them taken care of and all their needs met, but I worry there’s a tipping point somewhere where the passion for self-reliance falls away.

And finally, there’s a value in finding and appreciating simple pleasures. A good meal, another person’s touch, sun on your face, a country drive — all of those things give my mom a good feeling. We could all learn a little about simply stopping and letting those things work on us, noticing them, appreciating them.

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Is daily stress adding to weight gain?

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 in stress, weight gain | 1 comment

Food and DietAccording to a newly published online study, stress may be wreaking more than havoc on our bodies than previously reported. And, it’s quantifiable…at least with regard to weight gain.

I have certainly covered the impact of daily stressors on the hormone cortisol (think: craving comfort food, higher insulin levels and a midsection fat dump). However, study findings demonstrate that if women experience one or more stressful events the day before eating a fat-laden meal, it may slow the metabolism in such a way that over time leads to a whopping 11 extra pounds a year! Is prevention the best cure? Here’s what you need to know.

A bit of background…In this study, researchers asked fifty eight women to sample two separate calorie and fat dense meals consisting of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy (940 calories, 60 g fat total, with the difference between the two meals saturated versus monounsaturated fats). To level the playing field and neutralize any possible factors that could affect the results, they were asked to forgo physical activity and alcohol, as well as vitamins and antioxidants in days leading up the study; they also fasted 12 hours after consuming three, standardized meals. On the day of the study visit, they completed several questionnaires assessing depression, physical activities and the degree of stress during the day before. Most of the stressors that the women reported were fairly common and interpersonal, for example arguments with colleagues or spouses, disagreements with close ones or work issues.

What they found….the more stressors that women reported having had experienced the day prior to the meal, the slower the metabolic rate and the higher the insulin levels following the fatty meal. (Metabolic rate refers to the amount of time required to burn calories and fat; insulin contributes to the way fat is stored.) More stress also meant less conversion of fat into fuel, meaning that these women were storing more fat. What’s more, the combination of depression history and a large number of stressors caused both an immediate spike in triglycerides following the high fat calorie meal and a two-fold slower decline in cortisol levels. Additionally, type of fat didn’t appear to influence these findings; regardless if it was saturated or monounsaturated, stress affected metabolism fairly equally.

One of the most interesting take-aways from the study is that the high -at, calorie-dense meals that the women consumed are equivalent to many common fast food choices, for example, a MacDonald’s Big Mac with cheese and medium fries provides 930 calories and 58 grams of fat. And, the researchers note that while most people eat every four to five hours, the women were only provided with one meal; this means that food choices appear to influence metabolic rates all day long. Yet another reason to keep healthy foods nearby when stressors hit.

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