Men’s Health Awareness Month

Romeo Brand, 50, focuses on functional fitness and boxing. Picture: Suzette Botes

What do a runner in his 20s, a nutritionist in his 30s, a fireman in his 40s, and two physical instructors in their 50s and 70s have in common?

They all agree that whatever your age, you should be exercising and being mindful of what you eat but that it’s not essential to be in the gym every day, or to deprive yourself of the occasional treat.

June is Men’s Health Awareness Month and this year the theme is taking action against Covid-19.

As infection rates continue to increase, the most important weapons you should have in your arsenal are a strong immune system, and a healthy body. We spoke to five men of different ages to find out how they’re keeping fit and healthy in these trying times.

The Runner

“It is easy to think that you are healthy just because you look healthy,” says digital account manager Ndyebo Mapekula, 26, who lives and works in Rondebosch and is the captain of adidas Runners (AR) Cape Town. “Physical exercise is essential for everyone, not matter who you are or what you do. It doesn’t have to be a daily thing, but you have to keep active. Regular moderate intensity exercise is beneficial for immunity, especially in times like these.”

When it comes to nutrition, he adds: “I don’t have a diet I follow, however, I try to eat as clean as possible, sometimes going on a plant-based diet just to detox. You really do feel a difference in your physical activity when you prioritise nutrition as much as you prioritise training.

“Sort of like a puzzle, each small piece is unique and forms part of the bigger picture.” 

The Nutritionist

Wynberg resident Adrian Penzhorn, 35, a performance nutritionist and dietician, agrees that nutrition and exercise work hand in hand. However, he says, there’s a third pillar – sleep.

“One without the others will never be as effective,” says Adrian, who owns the Claremont-based Performance Kitchen. And when it comes to eating “what we put in our mouths will make or break any health goal”.

If you think there are major differences between what men and when should be eating, think again.

“The main change will be portion sizes, but this is a generalisation based on body size. A bigger frame needs more fuel so portions are bigger to support this.”

However, he adds: “Males should be consuming more protein because of their larger muscle mass, sufficient fiber is needed for gut health and certain nutrients are linked to health outcomes (lycopene from tomatoes can reduce certain cancer risks).”

The Fireman

For Sir Lowry’s Pass Village resident Jermaine Carelse, 47, who is the station commander at Goodwood Fire Station and spokesman for the City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Services, maintaining his physical health plays a vital role in ensuring his mental wellness and agility.

His work as spokesman requires him to have his finger on the pulse at all times and be available to respond promptly to media enquiries.

“The old adage that a healthy body harbours a healthy mind resonates strongly with me,” he says.

 “I believe that being physically well impacts positively on your mental capabilities. This is particularly important in my line of work where you are often required to think on your feet and make split-second decisions which can have long-lasting effects.”

And as a long-distance runner and cyclist, Jermaine says, sometimes in tough race conditions “it’s your mental fortitude that you’ll need to carry you across the finish line.”

The Personal Trainer

Personal trainer Romeo Brand, 50, who lives in Goodwood and worked at a gym in Cape Town CBD before lockdown, learned the importance of moderation after suffering two heart attacks and a third “cardiac episode”. Having started out as a body-builder, his focus now is on functional fitness and boxing. His exercise advice is simple: “Don’t get too technical, this is where most of us fail. Find guidelines you can relate to and run with them. Maintain three sessions per week depending on the type of training you do and be creative with meals.”

Asked whether he takes a different approach to training men, he says: “While I cannot be blind to the physical differences, all I need to know is what I’m working with not necessarily who I am working with.”

And for his male clients, the most common “problem area” is the waistline. “As you get older it’s not that easy to train for a few weeks and see changes no matter what you eat.”

The Pilates Instructor

It also took a health scare to encourage Pilates instructor Richard Borrett, 73, to start living more healthily. “I used to be very irregular with my exercise – and it showed – and then I ‘fortunately’, had a serious medical issue at age 50,” says Richard, who lives in Wynberg and instructs at gyms in Constantia and Claremont.

“(Now) I make a point of getting regular medical check-ups with my personal physician and a full blood work-up every year. Regular exercise is a must.”

Richard doesn’t smoke or drink – and also doesn’t weigh himself. “Do my clothes fit comfortably or are they starting to get snug? Then I revisit my diet and adjust accordingly.”

When it comes to nutrition, his focus is on fresh food and he avoids sugar and processed foods – “anything that man and industry has mixed together, such as pre-made foods, sauces, soda drinks and instant meals”.

Asked about the impact of lockdown on their lifestyles, all had found ways to continue incorporating workouts and healthy eating into their routines – no matter how stressful the current situation.

For Jermaine who, as an essential worker continued to work during lockdown, this meant bringing his two passions – running and cycling – indoors, and setting up make-shift gyms at home and work.

For Romeo, the lockdown provided him with the push he needed to accelerate his plans to take his personal training online, and Richard took the opportunity to upskill himself by doing online Pilates improvement classes.

Ndyebo, on the other hand, has learned the value of doing strength training to improve his running while Adrian kept in shape doing online workouts and shuttle sprints in his garden before restrictions on outdoor exercise were relaxed.