Men's Health:
My health journey

Men's Health Week: My health journey
Aaron Conway
June 2021

"You have to learn to love yourself before you can allow someone else to do it as well" - Daniel Sloss 

I didn't even know where to start when writing this blog about my health journey over the last year. Mental Health is such a broad subject, we're all such individuals that I know my situation won't be the same as anyone else's, and as far as my physical health goes, well let's just say I'm not expecting the call from Love Island anytime soon. 

While musing over the two ways health is interpreted, I realised how they were intrinsically linked for me and how my health has affected and been affected this year. Men's Health Week runs from 14th-21st June, and it's the 21st June 2020 that the most important part of my health journey began.  

To set the scene: I graduated university in Summer 2019, and it's fair to say I had let my standards drop while trying to cope with the stress of my final year. I was the heaviest I had ever been and was so scared of failing any assignments that I spent the weeks leading up to the deadline panicking, researching, and stress eating. I believed that this was just laziness, and I had no one but myself to blame for not starting my assignments earlier in the semester. I couldn't understand the mentality of my peers who prioritised grades and would hand in pages and pages of work, worthy of academic publishing, and I was somehow both too proud and too ashamed to admit I couldn't handle it and refused to seek out any professional help. 

Everyone has their reasons for going to university, and for me, it was because I needed a degree to qualify as a secondary school teacher, the career I’d been aiming for since school. Uni was just another stepping stone on my checklist, and by the time I reached final year, as far as I was concerned, it was better to succeed aiming low than to fail while aiming high.

Fast forward to post-grad life and that same procrastination and fear of rejection meant the Teacher Training application I had started in October was left untouched by February 2020, too late for the upcoming academic year. I started an admin job but 6 weeks into it, lockdown hit.

Three months into the pandemic, being confined to my house, restricted to a 1 hour walk a day and not even the comfort of furlough to ease financial worries I realised that my avatar on Football Manager was living a better life than me.

I can't remember exactly what it was that made me realise I needed to turn my life around, but I'm grateful that it happened. What I do remember was asking myself why I hadn't done my teaching application yet, and it was because I kept playing a hypothetical interview scenario in my head: 

"So Aaron, why do you want to become a teacher?"
"Well, I was inspired and led by my old teachers, and I want to be that role model and inspiration for the next generation"
"And are you that role model/inspiration?" 


At that point, I don't even know what to answer. The truth was, I felt like the complete antonym of a role model, and the last time I had done or said anything inspirational it was to a group of computer-generated footballers when they were losing at half-time. 

It was at that point, on 21st June 2020, that I resolved to turn my life around. I had already wasted the first half of the year, and I was going to make damn sure I got the most out of the second half. 

I laid out my goals to motivate me and to know I was on the right track:

  1. Lose at least 1½ stone/10kg weight;
  2. Run a 5k in less than 30mins;
  3. Get accepted on a science teaching course and most importantly; and
  4. Be happy with how I look and how I feel. 

The first thing I did was take the traditional 'before' photos in the bathroom mirror, and then download the Couch to 5k app. I resolved to complete the 9-week course and that night ordered a pair of running shoes and an arm strap for my phone. 

I reached out to friends who I knew would motivate me. Some of them gave me some really useful tips; the key, I was told, was nutrition - it didn't matter if I could run for an hour if I just put the fat back on for dinner, and it's pretty hard to gain/strengthen muscle if I'm not eating enough protein. 

Out went the 2 bowlfuls of cornflakes, and in came homemade fruit smoothies for breakfast. No more jam sandwiches and crisps for lunch, now it would be omelettes. Goodbye oven chips and chicken nuggets for dinner, hello grilled chicken breast wraps & brown rice. The snacking had to go too, if it wasn't mealtime, it was some apple slices or a big glug of water. 

My first session on week 1 of Couch to 5k was 3.7km long and took me a little over half an hour, with a pace of 8:50 minutes per km. By my final run of the programme, I was running faster than 6 minutes per km, with a time of 30:10 taking me to 5.1km, I had already achieved goal number 2 I had set out 9 weeks earlier.

I decided I couldn’t just keep myself at 5km and only 30 minutes; so I increased my goal to now run a 10k, and for at least an hour non-stop. I completed my first 10k the week before Halloween, making it in just under 53 minutes, and 2 weeks later I had run for a whole hour and gone all the way to 11km!

After a month of running, I had already lost a stone, and by Halloween, I was under my initial target weight. I had gone from borderline obesity at around 14st to comfortably 'normal' weight, just under 12st. My BMI had dropped from 28 to 24. My metabolic age (the average metabolic rate for that age demographic) had gone from a 27-year-old to 22, it really felt like I had gained those years back! 

I had gone from the guy too self-conscious to take his top off at the beach to finally being happy with how I looked, and finally in a place where I knew I could be the teacher I wanted to be. I've now been accepted to start my training year in September, and I cannot wait to begin. 

It's been almost a year now since I started my journey and I'm still changing, improving and learning. I do still run at least once a week, and instead of going it alone, I've been running with a friend since we started 2021, and we're determined to commit to all 52 weeks this year. I also now play 5-a-side football twice a week with some old friends, now that outdoor organised sport is allowed, and I've started working with a personal trainer to help me work on my long-term goals, and I'm able to eat in moderation rather than restrict myself to just chicken and rice. 

I've realised that for me, if I feel happy on the inside and look good on the outside, then I'll look happy on the outside and feel good on the inside too. 

It’s impossible to untangle physical health and mental health, if one is low the other is likely to be too. Now that my physical health is in a good place, I feel happier, more confident and more at ease. I’ve achieved my exercise goal, and truly believe that now I can achieve anything I put my mind to.

It’s never too late to start your health journey, someone once told me an old proverb:

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time? Now.

Aaron is the first of our new guest blog writers. He is a 24 year old soon-to-be secondary school trainee Chemistry teacher. During lockdown Aaron undertook a amazing health transformation that has benefited him in ways he could only imagine.

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