By: Aaron Callaghan
It’s a topic that is broached by every man and his dog; what is the definition of health for men and how do we achieve it? With so much information out there dominating Instagram, Facebook, websites, blogs and magazines, it can be a bamboozling foray for the average bloke. Proactive24 personal trainer, Aaron
Callaghan, has more than two decades in the fitness game and says as his coaching style has evolved, so too has his definition of health and success.
The topic of men’s health is a veritable minefield. With contradictory advice at every corner and pictures of bulging biceps and defined abs emblazoned across mainstream media, it’s no wonder a sense of failure dogs at the heels of the average bloke when it comes to defining their own health. To keto, or not to keto? To lift weights, get into HIIT, intermittent fast or eat only protein? It’s enough to make most take cover behind a tin of Pringles and a stubby or four.
When it comes to defining health, it truly depends on who you ask. A medical doctor has a set of metrics that differs vastly from that of a psychologist or your mate Dave from golf. The general definition of health, the state of being free from illness or injury, is fine and dandy for those just looking at the physical, but what about the emotional, mental and spiritual elements? When changing the lens from a purely physiological perspective, things tend to get away from the black and white and a little more into the grey.
Having represented New Zealand as a junior gymnast, playing rugby professionally and working as a coach and personal trainer for more than two decades, Proactive24 personal trainer Aaron Callaghan understands perhaps better than most the evolution of the definition of men’s health. No longer is it constrained to simply numbers on a scale or what you look like in your boardies but now, it takes into account your relationship with your family, with stress and with that particularly hard nut to crack; the old work-life-balance.
The coach is passionate about helping his clients to build awareness around their goals and set sustainable, achievable intentions. “There needs to be more intention and awareness when it comes to our conversation around men’s health,” he says. “We’re not having the right conversations early enough. I think it is changing but traditionally, there has always been a lot more focus of women talking to women in health. One of the big issues I feel that’s not being discussed is that a lot of our issues from a mental health point of view are created when we’re little boys. We need a generational shift. Men who are now fathers of boys need to change the narrative. Don’t tell them to harden up when they fall over and hurt their knee or when they’re frustrated. Let’s encourage them to express their emotions, context and situation specific, and encourage them to have conversations. How are you feeling? How does it feel in your body? What’s the action needed? Hopefully, by the time they get to 20 years old, they don’t have to go drink 500 beers or mask it with substances, food or fighting.”
Having studied with some of the best fitness and wellbeing coaches and advocates in the world, Aaron brings a wealth of knowledge to his position; looking to coach the individual on a holistic level rather than as a sum of their parts. Looking beyond just the physical, he says the key to lasting health is tailoring awareness for each and every client, so the intention and subsequent process behind their strategy is entirely unique to them and their contextual situation. “We tend to put things into a box, but there has to be a discussion around N = 1; creating a discussion around that individual is the biggest starting point for any opportunity for change,” he says. “I like my clients to write down five or six things that are important to them. For example, this might be exercise, mental health, relationships, sex life or nutrition. They then have a list of what is meaningful for them, which will change over their 20s, 30s, 40s and so on. Then it’s a case of doing a quick score of one to 10; 10 being perfect and 1 being a disaster. You’ve then got a baseline of understanding of what your health looks like; not the definition of health from someone else. Then it’s a case of looking at how they could improve. Say, stress is a four. What could we do to move it to an eight, looking at the whole picture in a sustainable, achievable way?”
Aaron’s success with his clients continually comes back to his ability to build a relationship with them; fostering their intentions and helping them to build healthier habits. “I’m trying to build in a lot of behavioural change measures, using research based, motivational interviewing techniques. I like to create a framework so they can understand the science around habit formation; how bad habits sneak in and what you can do to change it,” he says. “It’s about consciously looking at the trigger, the habit and the reward and how that cycle perpetrates in your life what’s needs to break it or enhance it.” The personal trainer says that life is about being aware of what you want to channel most of your energy at one time; whether it’s that six-pack, managing work stress, staving off a heart attack, recovering after surgery or building a relationship with your kids. “You can have it all, but you’ve got to be very strategic,” he says. “There’s a time and place for everything.”