Exercise would be the most widely prescribed medication on earth if it could be condensed into a pill, University of Newcastle researcher Myles Young says.
The benefits of exercise are paramount in Dr Young’s new program to tackle a trio of serious health problems in men.
“Obesity and depression are two of the largest contributors to heart disease in men,” Dr Young said.
“While exercise alone won’t solve all of men’s health concerns, it’s an effective strategy to improve physical health, mental health and overall quality of life.”
Dr Young said exercising for only one hour a week “appears to provide some protection” against depression.
“The more exercise you do, the stronger this effect becomes,” he said.
Dr Young’s program is called SHED-IT: Recharge. Participants will be recruited mid-year.
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The program features an online program designed to reduce cardiovascular risk factors in men, who are overweight or obese and experiencing depression.
The program will show men how to lose weight through “sustainable behaviour change, without having to attend face-to-face consultations”.
“We think our study will be the first internationally to evaluate a program designed to reduce cardiovascular risk factors in men with obesity and depression,” he said.
Confusion about diet, exercise and health is common among men.
“Unfortunately a lot of Aussie blokes think that being healthy means they have to eat like a rabbit and work out at the gym every day.
“However, men can lose weight and reduce their risk of heart disease without having to completely overhaul their current lifestyle.”
The program is designed to be sustainable.
“We argue that everything you do to lose weight, you need to be prepared to do for the rest of your life,” he said.
Overall, 70 per cent of Australian men are overweight or obese and 80 per cent are not meeting physical activity recommendations.
About 97 per cent of men don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables and almost 50 per cent experience regular sleep difficulties.
Additionally, about 12 per cent of men have a current diagnosis of depression.
“We expect there are a lot more who are having difficulties, but are not seeking help,” Dr Young said.
These factors were key causes of the high rates of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in Australian men.
“Obesity and depression are chronic health conditions that exist in a complex, linked relationship,” Dr Young said.
“They don’t always occur together, but a recent study found that men who were overweight or obese were 30 per cent more likely to develop depression than those who were a healthy weight.
In the reverse scenario, men with depression were 43 per cent more likely to develop obesity – suggesting the two conditions may be linked.
“Obesity and depression also increase the risk of heart disease through a range of biological processes,” he said.
They also make it harder for men to exercise and eat healthy food.
Research shows that men are more likely to participate in programs designed specifically for their preferences and interests.
The project aims to show that men can reduce their risk of heart disease, improve their mental health and lose weight by making small changes to their lifestyle and thinking.