Thursday, February 26, 2009

Cooking up a health treat at White Hart Lane

It's rare that I get the chance to write about football in this blog and to be able to do so twice in the same week is a rare treat so thanks to MHF chair Professor Alan White for giving me the opportunity.

The MHF are backing a new Premier League initiative which will deliver a men's health promotion package worth over £1.5 million. 17 of the current Premier league clubs are involved. The idea is to help football fans become healthier. How? Well, Alan, the world's first professor of men's health, puts it perfectly: 'The biggest lesson I've learned is that if you sit in your nice clinic waiting for men to come to you, chances are you'll be waiting a long time. But if you go out to where the men are, you'll have more success.'

Fulham will be giving 'specific attention' to sexual health, apparently. Chelsea will encourage local men to take their coaching badges (the credit crunch must have hit Blues owner Roman Abramovich harder than I thought). West Ham will target bowel cancer (the disease that killed former captain Bobby Moore at just 51). Everton will offer health MOTs on matchdays (a job for Mikel Arteta, perhaps, out for six months with ruptured cruciate knee ligaments). Newcastle will appoint two health trainers to work with dads and, catching them young, their kids. Tottenham Hotspur, innovative as ever, will be running 'cooking sessions'. This is presumably because their fans have been feeling sick all season.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Why is Defoe injured and not Ronaldo?

As the Carling Cup Final approaches, this is the question all Tottenham Hotspur fans are asking themselves. Why is their star player Jermain Defoe out for ten weeks while their opponents Manchester United can still call on the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo and all their other big name stars.

Of course, to sports fans, the headline Spurs Player Injured is about as surprising as Cyclist On Drugs. Spurs players are notoriously injury-prone. (When Spurs enlarge their ground capacity it's not to add additional seating but additional treatment tables.) But is it just Spurs' bad luck?

When Jermain Defoe limped out of a training session earlier this month, it didn't just sum up his club's season but, arguably, English football as a whole.

Defoe was the fifth Premier League player this season to go down with a broken metatarsal bone in the foot (the injury made famous by David Beckham). He joins on the treatment table fellow Spur Alan Hutton, former Spur Michael Carrick (are you detecting a pattern here?) plus Liverpool's Phillip Degen and the man who put the ars in metatarsal, Newcastle's Joey Barton. But none of this will surprise osteopath Don Blyth who has been monitoring metatarsals for years and, as he explains on malehealth, these injuries have nothing to do with foot shape, flimsy boots or playing too many games. It's about sedentary lifestyles and failing to toughen up the feet, especially in childhood.

Nineteen England internationals have fractured their metatarsals since 2002. No African players have. Don says: 'a disproportionate amount of English and European players are fracturing their feet compared to African players which rules out the boots, studs, pitches and number of matches which are the same for all players.'

Intriguingly, Cristiano Ronaldo was considered a likely candidate for a metatarsal injury when I last spoke to Don in the summer but so far the Manchester United and Portugal international has been spared. Why?

'Cristiano Ronaldo's feet are bearing up well, considering his lengthy lay off last summer. This suggests his feet are tougher and of a higher density, than the average Brit/European. I suspect his upbringing in Madeira may have helped, maybe playing bare foot beach soccer has hardened his feet more like an African's. Maybe he drinks a lot of milk? Maybe he does barefoot kick boxing as a hobby? Barefoot keepy uppy? All would help prevent the injuries.'

So the key to a healthy and successful football career? Play barefoot on the beach like the Brazilians. If Harry Redknapp reads this, Spurs training sessions may never be the same again.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

RSI - it's just like childbirth, really

RSI or repetitive strain injury is back in the news today. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy tell us that levels are as high as they ever were.

Now, in general the idea that you can only understand something if you've gone through it yourself does not convince me. I don't think you need to experience genocide or cancer or an episode of Top Gear to know they're not very pleasant. Being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes is part of what makes us human. But with RSI I'm prepared to make an exception.

Some 220+ British workers succumb to RSI every single working day. Make no mistake. It is clearly the employers fault. Employers have a legal obligation to prevent preventable injuries and we've known about RSI for at least 20 years now. But I don't think the problem is a callous disregard for health and safety. I just don't think the bosses get it. They don't realise just how painful and debilitating simply using a computer can be. Until they really know what it's like, nothing much will change (after all, the media only started writing about RSI when journalists started getting it). I know how the bosses feel. Even those of us who have experienced it, forget.

I've had RSI on and off since the early 1990s. At first it was so bad that I couldn't work and lost my job. Even now I know I could never go back to regular office hours. (As a freelance I can pace myself and spread out the working day.) But sometimes I forget, overdo it and get a flare-up. The result is an excruciating pain that knocks me for six every time. Your body forgets just how much it hurts - like childbirth, I suppose. Whilst you're going through it, you can't take the lid off a jam-jar or even open a door (again, just like childbirth.) But then you rest, it settles down (unlike childbirth) and over time you forget again.

So shut your boss's hand in the door today. Put his wrist in a vice and turn the handle. Twist his arm behind his back and tie it there for a week. What are these? Dick Cheney's favourite refined interrogation techniques? No, an RSI awareness-raising campaign.

Our 2006 survey finally gets its day in The Sun

The were mixed feelings among the Men's Health Forum team this week following our appearance in The Sun. (No, not on page three.) Despite the growth in the internet and the decline in newspaper sales, The Sun still sells over 3 million copies a day so a story quoting an MHF survey in the top paragraph is not to be sneered at.

The trouble is that the story, which appeared under the headline Why men don't want sex anymore, was based on research the Forum carried out for Men's Health Week in 2006! The Sun's headline statistic was culled from our story 18 million men have mental health problems which was not, of course, primarily about couples' sex problems.

I imagine that some eager Sun researcher - why does seeing those two words together make me snigger? - picked the story up off the internet. It shows how the media has changed in the online age and how important it is therefore that the MHF websites keep up with the development of the web. (We'd really welcome your help on this, by the way.).

Yes, the UK's tabloid newspapers may be first when it comes to sticking a camera up the skirt of the latest movie starlet but when it comes to men's health they're still way off the eight-ball. Thanks anyway, guys - we're emailing over our 1963 survey which suggests that smoking could actually cause cancer.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Three cheers for Alastair Campbell

It is healthy to express anger as I did in yesterday's blog. It is also healthy to give praise. So three cheers for Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell who is now doing his bit to encourage us to take a healthier attitude to mental health problems.

He argues that in today's prejudicial climate leaders who changed the world such as Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln - both of whom were frequently mentally ill - would never get elected. Campbell is in some ways his own proof. Although Tony Blair knew what he'd been through, the rest of us didn't.

Most people with mental health problems keep quiet about them at work until for some reason they can no longer do so. Why? I think our macho working culture might be to blame. It's increasingly difficult to express weakness, doubt or vulnerability. Bosses particularly are worried that to do this might destroy their magic. I know, it's a joke, really in the current economic climate.

But I reckon those bankers I wrote about yesterday are probably dealing with some tricky feelings right now - guilt, anger, sadness, low self-esteem. Just the sort of thing that can lead to depression and mental health problems. It is a shame for society - and all of us who have to work in it - that they can't talk about it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ex-RBS boss Fred Goodwin or 168 nurses? It's your call.

Sorry does not seem to be the hardest word for bankers. Responsibility, fairness and justice are all a lot harder and, indeed, if yesterday's shambolic performance before the Treasury Committee is any guide, some words are impossible. There was a lot of talk about bonuses in 2007. Sir(!?) Fred Goodwin, the man who destroyed RBS, was paid £4,190,000 in salary and bonus. Andy Hornby the man who presided over HBOS's demise was on a paltry £1.93m bonus and benefits.

I mention this not because like any sane person I cannot believe that the government, the regulators and most of all us, the general public, allowed this to come to pass but because the date - 2007 - triggered a memory. Wasn't 2007 the year the NHS was cancelling operations left, right and centre as it ran out of money and trusts desperately tried to balance their books by the end of the year? A quick web search proved my memory had not, on this occasion, failed me.

So here's another word that bankers and government better learn quickly: priorities.

Last week a lot of British workers went on unofficial strike to complain about other EU workers being paid the minimum wage. Surely what we need next is an official strike demanding a new maximum wage. Aside from the economic and moral benefits, it would have another advantage: apparently Sir Fred told the MPs yesterday that if bankers felt they were not paid enough, they would leave.

Sorry, I do try to avoid politics in this health blog but Fred Goodwin's 2007 salary could have paid for 28 hospital consultants (on £150k) or 140 heart transplants (based on BBC 2006 estimate) or 168 band 5 nurses (on £25k). Not to comment would be to be complicit in obscenity.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Six exercises using dumbbells

For technical reasons we can't currently embed videos on the main malehealth site so here you'll find the videos to accompany our fitness coach Scott Pearson's series on exercises every man should know. For the original article, click here.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Bicep curl

Dumbbell lateral raise

Dumbbell Flys

Dumbbell Swing