The benefits of group exercise highlighted on Men’s Health Week:

By John Harrington

This week is International Men’s Health Week which aims to heighten awareness of preventable health problems for males of all ages, support men and boys to engage in healthier lifestyle choices, and encourage the early detection and treatment of health difficulties in males.

It’s a fact that, on average, males die younger than females and have higher death rates than females for almost all of the leading causes of death at all ages.

Poor lifestyle choices, a greater tendency towards risk behaviour, and late presentation to health professionals are among the reasons why this is the case.

There is one obvious change that most men can make in the short-term that will have an immediate positive impact on their health, and that’s to exercise more.

Former Dublin footballer, Dr. Noel McCaffrey, is a powerful advocate for the effectiveness of exercise in both preventing illness and also transforming the lives of those with illness.

A sports and exercise medicine specialist, he leads the national roll-out of Ex Well Medical which offers community-based supervised exercise classes, many of which take place in GAA clubs around the country, as well as home programmes to people with many different long-term illnesses.

“Healthy ageing starts when you’re young,” McCaffrey told “What we understand is the single biggest most effective intervention anyone can undertake for healthy ageing is exercise.

“It has a role in preventing illnesses happening. If you exercise regularly you’re less likely to get hypertension, you’re less likely to get diabetes, you have a reduced risk of most forms of cancer, you’re likely to smoke less and therefore you’ll have a lower incidence of smoking related illnesses like lung cancer.

“And then if you get any of these illnesses the first treatment you should take is exercise. If you develop diabetes and begin exercising you may not need medication or reduce the medication dosage you’re on because of exercise.

“Likewise if your cholesterol is creeping up if you include exercise alongside a healthy diet approach then you may not need to use a statin or other form of medication.

“For men or women with psychological illnesses such a anxiety or depression, exercise is a core element of successful treatment at enhancing and maintaining wellness in regard to mood.

“The most important thing that any man who is looking to find a way to have a positive effect on his own health can do is to adopt a lifestyle based around regular exercise.

“And, if possible, to incorporate into that social networking so you’re doing the exercise with other people either in group classes or small groups because the social interaction is just as important as the exercise.”

The Irish Life GAA Healthy Club Programme does great work in ticking both of those boxes – offering a variety of exercise activities in group settings which produce both physical and mental health benefits.

A Social Return on Investment (SROI) evaluation conducted by Just Economics found that participants show significant health and wellbeing gains such as an increase in physical activity (10-25%), adopting of healthy behaviours (40%), and starting new hobbies (17%) and friendships (51%).

Having a local GAA club as a hub that provides group activities for males such as GAA for Dads & Lads has proven to be an especially positive way of encouraging males of all ages to exercise in group settings.

“The nature of men might be to not be as comfortable with having coffee with friends and that’s why having a structure of exercise that facilitates that social interacion is so important,” says McCaffrey.

“Be it golf, walking, tennis, or cycling, or a group exercise class of any sort. I think it’s a tremendous way to provide an environment in which the exercise can be done and it’s enjoyable.

“There’s no question that the single most important thing that a man or woman can do to protect their health or restore it if it goes wrong is to include as a core element, exercise.”

So for the week that’s in it, here’s some timely advice for all males who want to improve their health.

1: Participate in group exercise.

2: If you notice a change in your health such as breathlessness, fatigue, loss of weight or appetite or any concerning symptoms at all, then go see your local GP as soon as possible.

3: Be aware of the risk behaviours that can have a negative impact on your health such as a poor diet and excessive drinking and smoking.