Here at Sportsafe, we are intrigued to see that the focus for this year’s Men’s Health Week (culminating with Father’s Day on 18th June) is on how the internet helps and hinders the physical and mental health of our men folk.   There is so much good about the internet and its uses but, as we are all aware, there are also many challenges and dangers that can creep up and take over lives.   Inspired by Men’s Health Week, we have been investigating how sport, fitness and leisure exercise play a key role in helping men in particular to maintain a healthy real life/online balance.

Men’s Health Week (MHW) is designed to give all boys and men access to the information, services and treatment they need to live healthier, longer and more fulfilling lives.    It is a dedicated week that shines a spotlight on the unique health concerns impacting men whilst engaging fathers, brothers, sons, and male friends in discussions about their health while emphasizing the significance of men’s well-being within the context of family and community.

Considering this year’s digital focus, it is pertinent that those born in the same year as the emergence of The iPhone – 2007 – will turn 16 this year. This is a generation that has grown up with a high-performance computer in their pocket.  What are the implications for men’s health?

The iphone is a dopamine-delivery device that is always to hand. Every single app you use on it knows this full well and is designed to keep you using it. The potential for addiction is obvious – something being investigated by The Men’s Health Forum in a webinar – Men and online harms – with Dr Marcus Maloney from the University of Coventry. Marcus leads a discussion on ‘Boys, men, and ‘toxic’ communities’: Tuesday 13th June @ 2pm on Zoom. Register via this link

According to the Mental Health Foundation, approximately 1-in-8 men have a common mental health problem such as anxiety, stress, or depression.

Three out of four suicides are men. Furthermore, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. Typical warning signs include:

  • Anger, irritability, or aggressiveness
  • Noticeable changes in mood
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Constant low energy
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Ignoring personal hygiene

Men often feel embarrassed or uncomfortable talking about their mental health. But the bravest thing you can do is tackle the issue before it becomes a bigger problem.

Gloomy statistics indeed but there is strong evidence that sport and actual physical activity in general can help to provide a powerful and effective antidote to the internet fixation.

It is true that there is much fun and benefit to be derived from participation in following sports online and participating in digital matches and team play.  Real life sport and its online counterpart have quite a lot in common:

  • Esports and sports are venues of healthy competition. No matter the game — online or in the real world — the goal of winning remains. Healthy competition teaches the values of self-improvement, discipline, and fair play.
  • All sports are played by rules. Whether it’s a game of pickup soccer or a FIFA online tournament, sports and esports adhere to certain rules that all players must follow. Sports use referees and umpires to enforce the rules, while esports rely on anti-cheat software.
  • Both can be team or individual. Just as sports include individual and team competitions, so do esports. The number of players depends on the game being played and the tournament rules.
  • Esports and sports require equipment. Most traditional sports require specific equipment: a ball, bat, paddle, or stick. Similarly, esports players need a computer or gaming console, a controller or keyboard, a monitor, and headphones.
  • Skill is required to perform exceptionally. To rise to the upper echelons of sports and esports, players must have exceptional skill, talent, and dedication.  Most athletes who do well in traditional sports, which emphasize strength, speed, and agility, excel physically over their competitors. Esports favours different kinds of skills, focusing on reaction time, motor skills, and hand-eye coordination.

However, the nature of online games being predominantly a solitary sport, and VR interaction sanitising the environment, does seem to make them a low level challenge to traditional sport when it comes to keeping the male mind and body in best shape.

In the end, physical sport will always out-shine e-sport for longterm genuine health benefits and strong sense of being and identity –  it has roots steeped in tradition and skills developed over multiple generations with the potential to include all ages and genders whilst everyone can also watch and share experiences together

Particularly for men who have a tendency not to initiate or keep up with real people in real social situations, life on the internet for work and leisure can quickly become an isolating situation with the potential to adversely affect both physical and mental health.  This spiral can very effectively be balanced, however, by engagement with at least one real life sporting, fitness or physical leisure activity per week.

Sports provide an opportunity for men to develop new skills, make friends and find camaraderie with others who share similar interests. It may also boost self-confidence and relieve stress…When different sports are played on the field or court, players often develop strong friendships with their teammates. These sportsmen form supportive relationships where they can confide in each other and help one another grow as individuals while continually working to be better at their sports. This is especially true for men who play team sports like football and basketball.

The camaraderie and friendship that men form while playing sports will help them achieve better mental health outcomes. This is because sports can provide an escape from negative thoughts and feelings. Different sports are also engaging, so athletes will have less time to think about their problems. Sports serve as a healthy distraction for men.

So, why not use Men’s Health Week as an incentive to have a go at a physical sport or activity?  Time to turn off your screen and put away your keyboard – work those muscles, inhale that air, face those challenges and ‘get real’!