Archive for February 27, 2009

Active Body, Healthy Mind

We all know that exercise is good for us. Exercise means we live longer and suffer from less physical illness. That is an established fact. What is less well understood is that exercise is also a boost to your mind.

Exercise is great for your mental health too. Vigorous exercise for at least half an hour three times a week can be just as effective as an antidepressant or a talking therapy for people who are depressed. It is so important, I always encourage my clients to become more physically active to help improve their emotional well-being.

The link between emotional well-being and exercise appears to be stronger in men rather than women. In many ways this seems understandable at a psychological level. Many men take their frustrations onto the track, the football pitch, or the gym and literally work through their emotional issues physically.

There is some evidence, though, that exercise is even linked to reduced risk of dementia.  Nazimek (2009) reported on the research linking exercise and dementia and suggested that, as a guide, regular exercise of the type I mentioned earlier appears to reduce the risk of dementia by 32%. This link is perhaps even more important for men, with one study Dik et al. (2003) (cited by Nazimek, 2009) suggested that exercising between the ages of 15 to 25 years can protect mental functioning later in life in men.

Exercise doesn’t just keep your pulling power higher; it also helps keep you sane.

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Men’s Midlife Crisis – It’s a Woman Thing?

As a therapist that specialises in working with men, I have attracted a certain amount of media interest. At first I was flattered by the attention, after all, it gave me the opportunity to promote my practice. Then, as a pattern emerged, I became bemused and intrigued. The issue I am most often asked to comment on is “men’s midlife crisis”. From Red magazine to BBC Radio Manchester, successions of media reporters have been interested in my take on the topic. All of the interest, it must be said, is from female reporters working on female orientated platforms.

Why, I have found myself asking over the last few years, are women so interested in men’s midlife crisis?

First to the facts, is there such a thing as a men’s midlife crisis? I guess the answer to this is sort of yes, and sort of no. Given the interest in men’s midlife crisis generated by women, you would have thought that my caseload would be full of 40 something guys presenting with the same pattern of problem. I feel the need to reassure readers that the work of a men’s therapist isn’t spending my time with a host of guys wearing toupees, tight jeans, driving sports cars, and looking to pick women up half their age.

It’s not as if men in their 40’s don’t have their fair share of issues. Men, just like women, can find themselves in a crisis at any age for a whole range of reasons. This is not to say that midlife does not present its own unique issues. For example the men I see can often be concerned about the effects of lowering levels of testosterone on their sexuality. Then there is ageing, of course, where men see their boyish looks evaporate replaced by someone that looks like their dad. There is career choice as well. Is the job that the teenager chose 20 years ago still an appropriate choice for the man you have become? And there is death. At midlife the prospect of death is more real and imminent. Given the next roll of the dice — it could be you!

Mention these things to female reporters, they can nod in sympathy, but that is not what they’re really interested in. By “men’s midlife crisis” they mean men’s midlife infidelity. At least this is the conclusion I’ve come to. What they want to know is, why men are unfaithful when they are 10 to 15 years into a relationship, and more importantly, what can they do to protect against it.

Women have an understanding that, all things being equal, men tend to feel attracted to younger women. As women get older, there is a burning insecurity that builds up — is he going to start seeing a younger model? — born of this motivation, women scrutinise their partner’s behaviour for any signs that they are playing younger than their years. Haircuts, clothing and choice of (sports) car, all become evidence of (thought) infidelity and are fair game for the putdown “you’re having a midlife crisis”. And let’s face it, it is a putdown. This is the second interest women have in men’s midlife crisis, it is a form of control – a way of keeping men’s interests “age appropriate”.

Looked at in this way, the idea of a man’s “midlife crisis” is a woman thing, used to understand male infidelity and to protect against it. It’s also something that reveals a woman’s deeper insecurity, about age, looks and attractiveness.  It’s interesting that these are the very insecurities women accuse men of having.

So the next time your partner accuses you of “having a midlife crisis”, you can use it as an opportunity to comfort and reassure, rather than feel putdown and hurt. On this reading, all she really wants to know is that you still love her.

I’d be interested in your thoughts?

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Book Review: The Triumph Of Sociobiology By John Alcock

Sociobiology is the branch of biology that tries to explain social behaviour, including sexual behaviour, in evolutionary terms.  This book provides a great  introduction. But it also does two other things.

First, the book provides a robust defence of sociobiology from its main detractors, notably the political left and feminism. (Useful arguments to having your toolkit if you should run into Germaine Greer.)

Second, it provides a great rationale for why sociobiological ideas are relevant to human beings.

Unfortunately this is where the book falls down. Having set the reader up to understand human sociobiology (fascinating stuff as it involves human sexuality from strategies concerning infidelity through to rape), the book is painfully thin on these topic’s for my liking. However, it certainly whet my appetite for reading something more specifically human.

Sociobiology is something every thinking man should know something about, but it is controversial stuff.  My view is that any insight into male and female sexual strategies, and how they differ, is useful.  This does not abdicate morality to science, but it does help us to understand what our bodies were created to do, and what it is we need to come to terms with, if only to overcome.

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