In my 20s, I used to work as studio director for a radio morning show. Often, I’d stay up, watch Late Night with David Letterman, and then hit the sack, only to get up and hit the road to be at the station at 5, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with coffee for the gang. A little later on, I worked at a 24-hour news network, and my shifts were almost always 3 a.m.-11 a.m. or 4 a.m.-noon. I’d come home, do some other work, my partner would come home, and I’d almost always be in bed after 10 p.m. Five hours sleep was fine. In an magazine job, all-nighters were common as we got to production.
If I tried that now, I would implode in a week. And that isn’t always the easiest thing for a man to admit. We’re supposed to be invulnerable, aren’t we? One of the things I’ve noticed as the years have gone on is I can still be as intense as I was in the past (I think!), but that I can’t maintain that level of intensity for same length of time. I attend a music-industry conference each year where part of the deal is attending music sessions that go on until about four in the morning. I can do that, but inevitably there’s a post-conference crash.
Combine the fact that my “energy well” isn’t as deep as it used to be with the lifestyle of a self-employed consultant, where the pace can sometimes oscillate between frenetic and … what now? and you have a recipe for stress.
I have a few things I try to do to combat that stress. I try to keep my sleep habits as regular as I can. I’m lucky in that I rarely have insomnia, so it’s easy for me to stay rested most of the time. That keeps the energy supply high.
If there’s a frenetic period on the horizon, I will try to book downtime to recharge my batteries after the urgency subsides. Better to book it and keep it for myself than to carry on as if I didn’t just complete a herculean task and end up crashing.
And I try to keep my regular appointments sacred. Yoga class, exercise, and the like can sometimes feel like a distraction that I “should” skip “just this once.” But that has an impact down the road. Short-term gain for long-term pain.
It’s not easy to stay energized all the time. But if you can learn — even attempt — to manage yourself a little better, you can perform at a higher level all the time, rather than some roller-coaster cycle of sprinting, and then collapsing.
What are your tips for managing energy levels? Tell me in the comments.Read More
Where I live, this is the darkest time of the year. Instead of a beautiful sunrise when I wake up, it’s dark. When my partner is walking home from her office, it’s also dark. The layers of clothing get added to. The gloves and the puffy jackets come out of the basement. And the road bike gets brought inside and put on the trainer. Even though the winter solstice in December marks the is a welcome “bottom” to the year, before and after, the days are dark and short and cold.
When I was a kid, winter was the time for snow forts and snowmen and skating in the community rink while Anne Murray tunes scratched over the PA system.
Now, winter is the time of year where I have to shovel the driveway, wear heavy boots that I don’t like, and the time when I can’t ride (I know I could ride, but I’ve never been a winter cyclist type).
When it’s snowy and cold, It’s easy to find that hot new series to watch, to light a fire, pop some popcorn, and wait for spring. It’s just too tempting to simply hibernate in the house over the winter months. And it’s also a terrible idea when it comes to men’s health.
In Canada, studies show that people are nearly twice as likely to participate in any physical activity in summer compared to winter. And if you look at the sporting activities Canadians participate in, only two of the top 10 are winter sports. In Canada, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that ice hockey bumps up winter sports participation numbers, and even with the burgeoning popularity of women’s hockey it’s still predominantly male.
And the irony of all this is that when you exercise outdoes in the winter you burn up to 31% more calories than in warmer weather.
So, some tips for guys like me who don’t play hockey or ski for getting out there:
- “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing” is an a age-old proverb. So if you’re going to invest, invest in good layers of clothing. Go to a store that specializes in outdoor gear for winter so that you can benefit from knowledgeable staff. Fitness magazine has some tips on how to dress for outdoor exercise.
- If you’re a beer-league hockey player, don’t just rely on the hockey to keep you fit. The start-stop nature of hockey can be dangerous for people who don’t have a good base of fitness.
- Some sports — hockey and skiing come to mind — can be pricey to participate in. But skates and snowshoes are cheaper than fully kitting out for playing hockey or going downhill, and walking (with appropriate footwear that will keep you stable) is the cheapest form of all. I live in Ottawa, where for several weeks each year the Rideau Canal turns into a free five-mile skating rink (your hot chocolate will cost you, though). Also, rent before you buy if you aren’t sure if you’re going to stick to a given activity.
- Find a buddy. There will be times when you can’t drag your own sorry butt out for that workout, which is when you need the nagging, cajoling, and potential bribery of a friend to get you going. Use that help, and offer it to your workout buddy.
- If you just can’t stand winter, then bring your sport indoors. My road bike is hooked up to a trainer, so I have the opportunity to ride inside. Other people go to spinning classes to benefit from the motivation of others suffering around them (N.B.: One discovery from spinning — all that sweat that evaporates when you’re riding the bike outside turns into a puddle beneath the bike when you spin. Be warned.)
- Even if you don’t hit the gym in summer, many will offer “winter membership” or monthly memberships.
If your tendency, like mine, is to go to ground when exercising is no longer just a matter of tossing on a t-shirt, shorts, and going, then you, like me, have to just work a little harder to not give in. Besides, drinking that cocoa will feel SO much better if you skated five miles to get it.Read More
My forties have been a tumultuous time for me, healthwise. Essentially, I went from someone who had few problems physically or psychologically — at least ones I was willing to acknowledge, even to myself — to a rare diagnosis of bladder cancer, a bout of clinical depression, and some of the stresses and damages that go along with the clock.
I’ve lost a parent, a parent-in-law, and a number of friends. And one of the things that I’ve learned through my experiences and those of friends and loved ones is the value of being a self-advocate for your own health.
It’s not just a cliche that men don’t take care of themseves. It’s a fact. A 2011 article in Monitor on Psychology points out that not only do men take worse care of themselves than women, they are far less likely to seek health care out. That double whammy could contribute to men’s shorter life expectancy.
So how do we become better self-advocates?
First, we need to go to the doctor (or, in my case, the nurse practitioner), and we need to be more clear about why we’re there. A WebMD article tells the story of one man who visited Dr. Paul Haidet:
“A 50-year-old Boston dockworker with no serious illness in his past, the patient said the cough had been hanging on for three weeks. Haidet noted the details, performed a physical exam, and diagnosed an upper respiratory tract infection. “The guy had a cold,” Haidet tells WebMD. He recommended cough syrup and was about to leave, but something gave him pause. The patient “just had this weird look on his face,” Haidet recalls.
Haidet learned that the man’s best friend had recently died of lung cancer and when his friend was diagnosed, he had a very similar cough. As a longtime pack-a-day smoker, the patient was afraid his number was finally up.”
Second, do some research. I read a lot of stuff. And I try to read it critically, to understand the context. For example, if I read an article about a lawsuit over a bladder-cancer drug, I don’t have an immediate fear reaction; I learn the particulars. Be sure to use reputable sites like the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, the NIH, the AMA, or associations concerned with a disease.
3. When you’re in a doctor’s office or at a clinic, don’t just nod your head. Come in with questions, and be prepared to ask for clarification of terms or concepts that you don’t understand. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has a great checklist of questions for tests. That’s just one resource you can use.
4. Be politely persistent. I recently was searching out a referral to a specialist. Turned out the referral was being sent to the wrong place by my family practice. If I hadn’t been persistent in asking, who knows how long it might have taken to make it work. Because I discovered the error by checking with both sides of the transaction, I was able to ensure the connection was made, reducing my wait time.
These are just a few things we can do. If you’re looking for more ideas about self-advocacy, check out these resources:
- Seven Counties’ Introduction to Health Policy and Advocacy
- Be Your Own Health Advocate by WebMD
- The Center for Advancing Health
- “Be The Squeaky Wheel” by Care2
And remember: As of January 2014, Guyside will now be taking over the Wednesday Bubble slot, and if you’ve got something to say around the topics of men, health, and aging, we want to know. If you are interested in contributing, drop us a note at email@example.com.Read More
It’s easy to reach for the top. We’re almost mandated to do it, right? Nike told us: “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.” Vince Lombardi exhorted: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Steve Jobs said: “We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Because this is our life.”
I think men have a particular cultural script that says “more, bigger, better, faster.” It’s powerful. And the tech revolutions of the world have led to startups where the goal seems to be to work harder, pull the allnighters, and generally devote yourself, body and soul, to pursuing your ambition.
Not to say that ambition is bad. But over the last few years, I’ve made decisions — and some decisions have been made for me — that have started to make me think that perhaps we don’t give being average enough credit. Let me tell you a story about a guy who, as a kid, was pretty much the worst sportsman you could imagine.
This guy wasn’t … OK, let’s say it “I wasn’t… much of a skater. Or a baseball player. Basketball? Oh, man. Hopeless. I was pretty tall. But my teenage limbs made me look like a stick insect, and I was about as coordinated as a used-car salesman’s suit. I was pretty much the death of any sporting event I was press-ganged into during phys-ed class. It took me until my thirties to find a sport that I could be passionate about.
I was working at a university about 5 miles from where I lived, and parking there was quite expensive. And, my new house was just a few hundred yards from a network of bike paths. So I bought a used bike from a friend and became a cyclist.
Well, technically, I became a commuter. Becoming a cyclist came later. What I discovered was that I really enjoyed the riding part. There weren’t traffic jams to contend with. I remembered how free and fun it felt to ride a bike when I was a kid. Sometimes, the weather was not so great. And that was anywhere from unpleasant to nasty to… exhilarating. There was a certain joy in pounding your way home in a sudden rainstorm. Once you got to a certain level of wet, it didn’t matter anymore.
That first commuter bike died a sad death when its frame broke, a mortal injury. So I got another one. Then I heard about a local cycling club’s “Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour,” and decided to try training for a two-day, 230-mile ride.
I put on spandex for the first time. Then I went outside wearing it for the first time. I went from the upright-position hybrid bike to my first road bike. I took a group riding course from my local cycling club and started going out on the weekends to ride. I bought clipless pedals and learned how to ride while bolted to my bike. Commutes became kickoffs to longer early-morning or afternoon rides.
I got to the point that when I went home to visit my family, I found someone who would loan me a bike, got my dad to drive me to the bike, then spent the rest of the vacation taking beautiful summer morning rides.
And for the last 10 years or so, cycling’s been my thing. I can ride 30-50 miles without much forethought; the century (100 miles) is a little bit of a challenge, but not like climbing Mount Everest. But all that is not to say that I’m a good cyclist. Hell no. Let me enumerate the ways in which I’m not a good cyclist.
- My iffy fitness regime means that my hill-climbing ability is awful. In the Tour de France, the “King of the Mountains” wears a polka-dot jersey. They oughtta give me prison stripes.
- I’ve never raced. Never felt the thrill of sprinting past the pack and crossing the finish line in a criterium (closed-streets race on a relatively short track). By the time I started riding, the romance of racing was outshouted by the reality of crashing.
- I possess neither the finances to spend thousands of dollars on the most high-tech components possible to reduce the bike’s weight by a few ounces, or the willpower to reduce my weight by a few pounds, both of which would make me faster on the bike.
- My cycling wardrobe tends to jerseys with Sesame Street characters or illustrations of hamburgers on them, rather than team kit.
- I might go a week without a long ride. Sometimes two.
- In Ottawa, the snow begins in November and the roads clear in March or April. My indoor training regimen is … spasmodic at best.
That’s just a start. And you know what? I don’t care.
One of the things I’ve come to learn is that I don’t mind being a bad cyclist. There’s something to be said for riding slow, and for accepting that the young turk on the $7,000 bike (yeah, that’s not even the top of the top-range) is going to smoke me going up or down the hills of Gatineau Park.
I enjoy going 15 miles an hour as much as I would going 25. I enjoy the feelings of cycling, either alone or with friends, and I enjoy the sensations. Dedicating my life to becoming a top-notch cyclist wouldn’t make me enjoy it more. In fact, it might reduce my enjoyment.
Life is full of things we have to do: obligations. At least mine is. I don’t need to turn a thing I love into another one of those obligations. There’s a joy to being okay at something. And if you’re pushing yourself in one or more aspects of your life, maybe there ought to be room in your life for something you’re … just okay at.
I have tons of friends who are marathoners, triathletes, hockey players, basketballers, and the like. I regularly applaud and admire the ones who are “serious athletes” or “competitors.” But I’m not one of those. And you know what? I’m pretty much okay with that.
Dare to be average. You might just like it.
Photo: Creative Commons licenced by Flickr user Fil.Al, used with permission.
This week I called on your help. And you answered by sharing Wednesday’s Team Brilliant post, joining the community, sharing via Facebook and Twitter, donating and buying tee shirts. I am honoured and wowed. Which is why I want to this little gem with you: when you are ill, your resilience appears to highly related to social support, along with the ability to cope, finding benefit in your experience, however difficult, and perception.
So, what is meant by ‘resilience?’
Across the literature and across different illnesses, resilience in the form of adversity refers to one’s capacity to successfully maintain or regain one’s mental health and attitude. It relates to hope, empowerment, acceptance of hardship and determination. Anticipating and envisioning a ‘healthy self’ in the future can help us see past current and immediate physical or illness hardships.
Social support from family and friends also plays an essential role. Social support has been associated with better psychological health, finding benefit in one’s situation, hardiness and self-esteem. Moreover, studies show that social support actually boosts success in living with an illness.
Over the past several weeks, we have seen that in action, as a community of people, many with only two people in common, joined together to help and support someone with a critical illness in need. When I asked that person how that effort impacted his outlook, he told me that he looked forward to the future when he could pay it forward.
Social support is powerful. According to a recent review in Psychosomatics Journal, “social support is clearly vital to most patients to enhance resilience.” The researchers say that factors that further enhance this support include active coping, positively assessing one’s situation, acceptance, and spirituality. Ultimately, these factors in concert can help many individuals with illness form a new framework, identify new and positive inner strength that they never realized they were capable of and even improve overall functioning.
Goethe once wrote “The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.”
Whose garden will you inhabit?
p.s. Julie Pippert. I have a tee shirt for you.
Have you seen the headlines? Yup, that’s right! That morning caffeine fix might just be the ticket to a longer life, at least according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week. Mind you, whether or not daily consumption of coffee directly causes a longer life or simply associated with it has yet to be determined. But this is truly the type of news that all of us can use, right?!
In this study, researchers from the National Cancer Institute examined data compiled from over 220,00 men and 173,000 women who participated in a larger diet and health study. They analyzed intake of a broad variety of foods ranging from fruits and vegetables to meat and other source of saturated fat, and coffee consumption was assessed terms of frequency, i.e. 0 to 6 or more cups daily.
Although coffee is rich in antioxidants, its consumption has been linked with increases in cholesterol and blood pressure levels. And, in this particular pool of individuals, coffee drinkers were likelier than nondrinkers to smoke cigarettes, have more than three drinks (alcoholic) a day and eat more red meat.
And yet, after adjusting for all of these confounders — in particular smoking — researchers found that drinking coffee actually appeared to prolong life. In fact, men who drank 6 or more cups a day had a 10% lower risk of dying and women who drank this much had a 15% lower risk of dying compared to non-coffee drinkers. Even better? It didn’t appear to matter whether or not the coffee was caffeinated or decaffeinated.
The researchers say that their findings add evidence to other data that show inverse associations between coffee drinking and risk of diabetes, stroke and death from inflammatory diseases. Importantly, they caution that even though smokers appeared to gain the same benefits as nonsmokers, lowered risk from dying appeared to be the strongest amongst participants who never smoked or had stopped smoking.
So, should you start drinking more coffee than ever? Well, this study is an observational study and one that relied on self-reports. Therefore cause and effect is inconclusive. However, in this extremely large pool of men and women, drinking coffee more frequently appeared to confer a moderate degree of protection from dying of heart and respiratory disease, stroke, injuries, accidents and infections. Of course, more coffee may mean less sleep and more jitters, depending on your constitution and the degree of caffeine. Regardless, it appears that more is less when it comes to dying.
Got life? Have another cup!Read More