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I’m Dr Gregory Scott Brown, director of the Center for Green Psychiatry and affiliate faculty at the University of Texas Dell Medical School, reporting for Medscape on the importance of mind-body medicine for men.
Mind-body medicine focuses on how interactions within the mind, including thoughts, feelings, and emotions, relate to physical health and well-being. A mind-body practice could include guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, acupuncture, meditation, or yoga.
Let’s face it: Men are lukewarm when it comes to incorporating a mind-body practice into their own life. Many would rather go for 18 holes of golf, a pick-up game of basketball, or go spend time in the gym instead. Evidence, in fact, supports the idea that men are less likely to develop a meditation practice.
A small study in the Journal of Women’s Health supported this idea by showing that although men and women both believed that meditation would be useful for their overall health, women were twice as likely to incorporate a regular meditation practice.
And extending to yoga, a large survey by Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journalshowed that only 28% of regular yoga practitioners are men. There’s a growing body of evidence supporting that incorporating a mind-body practice can help reduce anxiety, boost mood, and improve sleep.
It’s also important to note that yoga and meditation, for example, don’t need to be physically demanding and can be performed in a person’s home or in their office. These mind-body practices are particularly important for men because although women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, men are about 3.5 times as likely to succumb to suicide.
A recent study published in JAMA Psychiatry indicated that higher masculinity traits, including emotional restriction, competitiveness, and aggression, could potentially increase a man’s risk for suicide.
Attention to breath is a common thread in most mind-body practices. I like to start off by teaching men a modification of 4-7-8 breathing. In order to do this, men should first find a quiet space, bring their attention to the breath, take a deep inhale, count to four, hold, count to seven, and finally, a long cleansing exhale, count to eight.
That long exhale is critically important because research has shown that it can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system as well as increased GABA levels in our brain, and even promote alpha-wave activity on EEG—all indicators that our body is in a calm and relaxed state.
The beautiful thing about breath work is that when it’s done correctly and used as a therapeutic tool, it tends to work pretty quickly. People will report an almost immediate calming effect.
Another important point is that men like quantifiable results. We’re competitive, right? It plays into our masculinity. In an age of apps, digital health, and wearables, this can actually work to our advantage to support a mind-body practice.
Wearables such as the Apple Watch and the Oura ring, or apps such as Insight Timer or Calm, can help men keep track of their mood and add structure to a mind-body practice. Men can use these devices to help support a healthy internal competition and maybe to encourage them to meditate a little bit longer today than they did yesterday.
Some of these apps may specifically appeal to men by featuring well-known male athletes who lead guided meditations and also tell their own stories of hope and resiliency that men may relate to.
When men learn mind-body medicine and how to develop their own unique practice, they begin to learn how to pay more attention to how their thoughts, their feelings, and their emotions relate to their physical bodies, and vice versa. This can be useful for helping men extend their fuse, live a life with less stress and a better mood, and overall, improve their quality of life.
Although it is true that incorporating a mind-body practice can positively impact men and women, regardless of age, let’s not forget that men are the least likely to engage in these practices.
Learning about mind-body medicine may be that first step in helping fostering open communication so that when he’s really struggling, he’ll feel comfortable reaching out to a friend, a neighbor, a loved one, or even a mental health professional.
I’m Dr Gregory Scott Brown, reporting for Medscape.