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How men stay active and how they chill out

An excited mature male mountain biker gives a thumbs up

How do men exercise and what obstacles do they face? How do they relax? What do they do when they’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed?

No matter what stage of life you’re at, it’s important to stay active to stay healthy. Everyone sometimes struggles with motivation, especially when stressed or tired, but exercise and down time can be very important for mental health and wellbeing.

We interviewed Queensland men ranging from 17 to 69 years old to find out: Greg (52), Kai (17), Jim (69), Kevin (46), and Chris (38).

Some interesting observations and insights emerged, so let’s jump right in.

Greg, 52, married with four kids

“Yeah, four. I think they wear me down a bit – through the day I get older, I’m sure!”

“I currently go to a group training gym, but I also love to run. Over the holidays I bought some bikes – one for me and one for my wife – so I love being active, yeah.

“We can do the big trip up to Ipswich or the Brisbane Valley rail trails, or we can just buzz around our place and stay active.

A man his wife two children and a dog exercise by walking in a suburban street

“My background was always being active, so I was always playing sport, so I just kind of kept going.

“I enjoy moving because it clears my head.

“Running is the one thing that I’ve always loved doing … It's meditating during running – you get into that rhythm and then the rhythm kind of creates its own flow ... I think you just drop everything and then suddenly you start to get all these kinds of ideas about the problems that you’ve got, kind of just come to you. You don’t even have to think about them. They just sort of arrive. The biggest problem is remembering the ideas you came up with.

“I generally run three times a week, but not as far as I used to say, five, six years ago. I love doing things like half-marathons and marathons and stuff like that. I also do Park Run – I’ve done 148 Park Runs. So, the next milestone is 250 – so that’s about two years’ worth of running to go.

“I’m a bit injured at the moment, so I’m still trying to find other ways to not lose my fitness.”

Greg also exercises for the mental aspects and to counter stress.

“Yeah, that's my main go-to strategy if things aren't really, you know, when you're feeling overworked. I don't really stay in bed longer. I don't get out on the drink. I don't do all that kind of stuff. And that's okay.

“I just tend to like doing exercise because it just gets your heart rate up, gets your head out of that space and into something else. And then by the time you come back and have a shower, you're generally back feeling back pretty much normal again.”

As it is for most, motivation is sometimes an issue.

“A lot of people will find they’re having trouble making time. The trouble is after work, or school and stuff, there's too many excuses not to try. So, my way is trying to exercise when everyone else is asleep. I do get up and go running at five or go and do an early session at the gym and stuff like that. And that's because everyone doesn't share that passion in my family for being up early, but it means I can get that stuff out of the way and start on my jobs for the day. Then I've got time for other people then, and at home and all those types of things.”

And how does Greg chill?

“You mean other than exercise? Probably sleep!”

A man playing volleyball on the beach next to the ocean

Kai,17, has just started uni

He’s very physically active and keeps up to date with what’s happening in the world of fitness and health through the extensive network of friends he met through playing club rebound beach volleyball.

“I’m playing volleyball about three to four hours a night, three to four times a week at the moment, which is a pretty good team sport, with a social aspect to it, too, so it’s also fun. I get exercise and health benefits from that.

“On the off days I try to still keep moving, do something, go for a walk, go to the gym – something like that.”

What are the obstacles to him getting enough exercise?

“Currently, I’ve sustained a shoulder injury, which stops me from doing as much as I would like to. Besides that, obviously motivation is sometimes an issue. I used to like running. Not as much anymore because the best time for running, arguably, is early in the morning. And that's just not my thing. Sorry!”

How does he relax?

“In my eyes there’s like two types of chilling. I play a lot of video games, but some could argue that that’s not really chilling, that’s not really giving yourself a break, which I understand.

“But a lot of the time when I read a book, or when I’m lying in bed watching a show or something like that, I feel like I’m wasting time.

“So, playing video games is a good compromise of still kind of getting something done –objectives done, but still giving your body a break and having a good time as well.”

What does he do when he feels tired, stressed or overwhelmed?

“I'm not usually good at making decisions when it comes to those type of things, when I'm in that state of mind, but from advice that I've got from my friends, when or if I am stressed or I'm in a bad place, I take the time out of my day to go for a walk, even if it's raining it doesn't really matter. I'll just go outside and go for a walk and for however long I want.”

A mountaineer sitting on a ledge in front of snowy peaks

Jim, 69, very fit and active

At the other end of the age continuum, is former military man, prawn trawler crewman, newspaper editor, martial artist, and mountaineer, Jim.

“I do a full workout three times a week, which includes running and upper-body exercises. It usually takes about three-quarters of an hour to an hour. So, it’s a 3.5km run. Then I do about six 35m sprints, and I’ll do about 10 sets of chin-ups and pull-ups.

“I also do a bit of floor work and some dumbbell exercise at home during the week for a about 10 or 15 minutes most days. I also take the dogs for a walk every day when I get home from work, and that’s usually about a half-an-hour walk.”

He doesn’t find too many obstacles stopping him from getting enough exercise.

“I don't have any real obstacles, as I don't go to the gym, I don't go into organised sports, so it's pretty well, whenever I walk out the door, I can do whatever I want.”

Jim, who has been a vegetarian since 1976, says he has been health conscious his whole life.

“I always read articles that relate to health and what to do to keep healthy.”

He thinks that many of the men he sees walking around “don’t seem very fit”.

He says he doesn’t really get tired, stressed or overwhelmed – particularly since he reduced his work to 4 days a week.

“I think doing nothing is vastly underrated in our society,”

Jim is a big reader and likes to read or watch movies to relax.

What about the men in the middle?

The legs of a group of runners

Kevin, 46, married and doesn’t have children

“You know, I've – probably since I turned 40 – become a lot more active. So, over the last few years, I would say primarily I'm a runner.

“I’m probably a perfect example of somebody who absolutely didn't do any exercise and absolutely wasn't keen. Through a friend and a colleague at work, they introduced me to running by suggestion. We signed up for a 5km. I didn't think I would like it, and I really didn't at the start, and it took me a lot of time to fall in love with it. But I guess I have at some point fallen in love with it. And it's something that I really, really enjoy.

“So, whether it is walking in the hills, whether it's cycling, whether it's running, whether it's stand-up paddle boarding and, you know, I think you've just got to try things. And then you find something that you enjoy. Because the biggest drawback is if you don't enjoy it, then you're not going to keep it up. So, try something that works for you.

“I like to go for short runs, long runs – everything in between. I normally try to enter organised events through the year, so that I've got a date in the future to aim towards, whether that's 10km or half marathons.

“I do like to go and cycle, which is a lot more leisure really, and do that with my wife and sometimes pack a bag and go for a picnic and stop off at nice places – an excuse to have some coffee and cake.

“I'm pretty lucky I have a pool in the back garden. So swimming is one as well. So, between those three, a little bit of golf at times, lots of walking. Yeah, I think I'm pretty active.

“I like it as a way to get my energy levels up. I like it also just as a way to step away from the screens and get out of the house. I've never been a fan of exercise in the gym. I prefer to just go out, and it's free. It doesn't cost me any money, but also, finding new routes and, you know, just discovering things. So, I think all that contributes to my overall wellbeing as well as just the exercise.”

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  • And what are the challenges to getting enough exercise?

    “For me, some of the challenge is weather. I grew up in Scotland, and normally it was too cold or too wet, but here it's about being too hot. Finding the right time is probably the challenge.

    “One of the challenges is sometimes a little bit of motivation. If I do my running in the morning and prepare for it the night before, then it's like, okay, I've done that, so it's one less barrier to overcome.

    “Doing something like going for a run today with a colleague that we arranged in advance. So, there's an element of, if I don’t turn up, then I've let him down and if he doesn't turn up, we've let each other down.

    “So, sometimes just organising something in advance just gives you that extra motivation and make sure you do it as well.”

    What about being tired, stressed or overwhelmed with work?

    “I think running tends to be my go-to. I think taking time out is a real challenge at the moment - in terms of getting away from devices, computer screens, TV screens. I don't do it enough, but I like to sit down with a book, or sometimes sit outside in the sun. Disconnecting from technology is the biggest challenge for me.”

    So, how does Kevin chill?

    “Yeah, a real mix, I mean, I do like video games, computer games, Nintendo. I've only just this year really discovered podcasts. I do like to tune into a podcast – mostly catching up on various sports, or what's in the pipeline for upcoming movies.

    “It’s probably about finding the balance between exercise and chill. I do like to try and have a planned weekend ... probably try and sometimes plan a little bit too much in – whether that's, activities like shopping and going to Bunnings and chores around the house, as well as try to find some exercise.

    “I think it's about understanding that sometimes it's okay just to have a chill day and whether that's a book or Netflix or whatever. I think I'm getting to a reasonable balance, but it does fluctuate.”

    A weightlifter dusts powder off his hands before lifting

    Chris, 38, soon to be married

    “I do strength training. Essentially weightlifting. You start with deadlifts on that day and do a bunch of accessories, and next time you do your bench press and accessories, and the next time squats,”

    “I do that at least twice a week, and if I’m being good, three times a week. That’s my only physical activity, or at least anything strenuous or planned. I’d love to be doing it four times a week, getting sort of leaps and bounds in my strength and the physical benefits of that.”

    Chris has had to get a second tuxedo for his wedding as he no longer fits in the original.

    “It’s not shredding for the wedding or anything like that,”

    “It’s funny when you tell people, ‘Oh I don’t fit my suit anymore.’ People are like, ‘Oh, did you get fat?’ I’m like, ‘No, you know, it doesn’t fit up the top’, which is a really nice problem to have.

    “An increase of muscle mass has got a lot of benefits … It's very much a structural thing. I think if you can build muscle strength, you can really mitigate a lot of age-related injuries, not even age-related, just injuries in general.

    “I would hope that I continue doing this as I get older and really try to be a lot more physically able, as I head into my later years. I'd really like to be as capable as possible for children and grandchildren.

    “Also, muscles are very hungry. You really decrease your chance of putting on excess body fat and the problems that can occur from that.”

    Does he feel strength training benefits him mentally?

    “There's no real separation between physical and mental health – I mean the holistic creature and one's going to affect the other, for sure.

    “It really has a more pronounced effect on me mentally, than anything. I can leave work having had a terrible day. I'll get home and not want to go to training. I just want to lie there and relax, but, you know, thankfully I've got a trainer that I paid for, so it’s a really good reason to have to go.

    “But being able to switch my mind essentially from the problems of the day and anything else that's on my mind to just ‘lift this weight’, ‘keep the form good’, and everything, ‘breathe now’, you just switch that old mind off, and then you just completely focused on what you're doing.

    “At the end of an hour, hour and a half, or however long it takes to get through the particular session, I feel fantastic. I go home feeling as if I've done well, like I've accomplished something, that I've really gotten somewhere … improved.

    “I get home and I'm in a great mood and, you know, my fiancé appreciates that as well.”

    What are Chris’ obstacles to exercise?

    “I'm good at procrastinating. Oh, I might go on Sunday. Oh, I’ll go Monday night and I never do. So, I'm good at talking myself out of things. Work thankfully is really flexible so I can leave to make my 5.30pm sessions. I’m also thankful that I have a strength coach, to keep me motivated and on track.”

    What does he do when he’s tired, or stressed or feeling overwhelmed?

    “I’m an absolute monster to myself. Not matter what it is, I’m not going to give myself a break. I almost think it would be healthier for me to be a jerk to other people, and just getting rid of it, externalising it.

    “If I was being healthy, I’d catch up with a friend, but I don’t always do that. Okay, I sometimes do it, but only when things are really bad. I withdraw, and I probably watch way too much YouTube. I don’t really have a good method. I don’t meditate – not that I’m against it. I think it would be fantastic.

    “I’m very, very thankful that I have a big network – not just family, but friends that are now basically family – people I can rely on at the drop of a hat. I can just call up a friend who’s like, ‘Come have lunch with me right now!’

    “Some are people older than me, with great experience, that can just sometimes set me straight, when I can’t, my partner can’t. I mean, I’m really lucky.”

    Some ideas and resources on staying fit, staying happy, and getting help when you need it:

    Last updated: 26 April 2021