Active Devon's Gareth Dix is surfing a wave, on a sunny day, with the sea in the foreground and the cliffs in the background. Surfing helps him find balance in life which he is sharing to raise awareness of men's health.

Sharing How I Find Balance in Life to Help Raise Awareness of Men’s Health

Active Devon’s Gareth Dix shares his story on how he tries to lead a healthy and active life to help inspire others during Men’s Health Week (10-16 June 2024).

This week is Men’s Health Week.

A year or so ago my 22-year-old eldest son Sam created a digital magazine as part of his Graphic Design degree. He called it ‘Brother’. It was a one-off edition, where the idea was to capture through a bunch of stories and great imagery, the thoughts and actions of “ordinary men living mindful lives.”

His hope was the content may encourage other men, especially where in Sam’s words: “men are more at risk of suicide, substance abuse, homelessness and many chronic diseases that lead to earlier mortality.” 

Whilst the magazine included great stories of lads who are photographers, musicians, athletes or with military experience, it was quite a surprise when he asked if I would be interviewed for the magazine. It led me to think about of what is to be a man in mid to later life and how I understand what leading a healthy active life means. Sam was particularly interested to know how I deal with life’s pressures. 

As this week is Men’s Health Week (10-16 June 2024) where many organisations and groups across the world put a spotlight on addressing the disproportionate burden of ill health men face, it felt pertinent to share three specific thoughts from the interview. 

Shared Acceptance

The first is related to Sam’s question about coping with life’s pressures. The reality is I don’t always cope. The greatest learning I had as a younger man was both accepting when I’m struggling and the value of sharing these feelings with a friend or family member, in essence, asking for help. 

Whether it’s pressure we place on ourselves or external pressure from unhelpful social norms or things outside of our locus of control, it is important to recognise and accept our own fallibility and relinquish things we can’t control. Surfacing our struggles with trusted others is a route to greater balance.

It’s not easy or doesn’t feel natural to share for many men but I’d encourage blokes to find a club or group based on interest and start to connect and have a few laughs (often a key aspect of feeling safe). There are some great sports clubs across Devon who run social groups. Walking versions of sports has become a great way of helping build togetherness in older men.

Interestingly from experience in supporting male friends going through difficulty I’ve noticed we are more likely to share feelings when shoulder to shoulder and less so face to face. Connecting or reconnecting with your local sports or physical activity group could be a great way to building friendships and finding the support needed.

“I’ve noticed we are more likely to share feelings when shoulder to shoulder and less so face to face.”

Get Some Rhythm

The second thought is about finding rhythm and routine in daily life. This may not feel easy and I’m certainly someone who can zip around and lose a sense of structure. When surfing through the year I’m often helped by noticing the solid rhythm of tides, waves, seasons changing and the sun setting and rising. It’s a settling thing. 

Sam was interested to know about what makes up a good routine that can lead to a sense of rhythm. For me, the bedrock of this is sleep, good hydration, balanced diet and protecting time to move more. I don’t always get it right but if I can manage my energy which comes from decent sleep hygiene, and I can get active to burn off some cortisol levels and release feel good endorphins, my body and mind will thank me. 

Evidence is telling us that 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise plays a significant role in reducing risk of diseases that affect men at younger ages, in particular mental illness, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Being active with friends is even better as we’re then increasing social connection, a marker for good wellbeing.

A final word about rhythm is recognising a day will ebb and flow with good things and some things that can cause stress. Recognising this as completely normal and rolling with the dynamic of the day, embracing the good and less good is helpful and a great resilience builder.

Know Yourself, Act on Fact

The final thought is knowing yourself and knowing your facts. This means taking time to understand what makes you ‘tick’ and what makes you ‘trigger.’ And what are essential facts will help me in managing my everyday health. 

Over time I’ve had some support through good mates, family and even coaching to get a clearer understanding of what helps me to be at my best (tick) and what can trigger me to be the opposite, and more crucially techniques to prevent and manage these triggers.

When I’m triggered my stress levels rise and with it comes a physiological response that can over time lead to poor health outcomes.

Examples of triggers for me are over tiredness, lack of planning, empty scrolling, financial concerns, and low energy from poor diet. Examples of what makes me tick is time with friends, having a purpose bigger than myself, music, physical activity (surfing/walking) and good sleep. 

In terms of ‘knowing your facts’ I’ve learned some important health measures. These measures include understanding blood pressure levels, having some insight on what constitutes a healthy weight and being aware of mood levels.

More recently I’ve used a smart watch and a phone app to help with some of this and often chat and have a chuckle about it with mates. I’ve also visited my local surgery to discuss and get support with one of two elements of this. Visiting the GP (General Practitioner) was not something I was keen on and, I’m not alone with that as a man. However, it was something I’m glad I did. 

Conclusion

I’m not sure if Sam wanted to interview me really for his magazine or whether it was his way of asking my advice as his father.

He did finish with an interesting question “what is the one thing in all the experiences I’ve had that helps men be healthy?” 

Whilst it’s never one thing, the answer is in the name of the magazine ‘Brother’. It is not good to be isolated and one of the best indications of better health in men is how connected they are with other male friends.

We all need a friend like a brother, and I’d encourage anyone who notices someone feeling alone to come alongside and take a simple walk and talk outdoors. 

Because of this and the actions of a good mate of mine I’m now involved in a WhatsApp group called ‘Geezers’ where a few of us head out for a stroll and a bacon roll every month and just chat and laugh, moving together shoulder to shoulder, as ‘brothers’.  

Written by Gareth Dix – Director (Strategic Relationships) at Active Devon.