The applause erupted like a valve. The men clapped, signaling their desire for LJ to prolong the discussion of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. It was another successful book club meeting. When the invite went out months ago to the members, there were so many requests to bring friends that an unusual decision was made to move the home-based meeting to Ruby’s Café. It proved to be a perfect setting. The Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, sponsored by the Monterey Jazz Festival, performed during dinner setting a mellow tone for the evening. The reading, comments, and questions flowed, culminating in a deep feeling of connection, satisfaction, and well-being. Finally, being together after a year of pandemic isolation was like the balm in Gilead, healing. Ruby moved through the crowd offering a nightcap, a Cherry and Banana Yogurt smoothie. It consisted of soy milk, a dash of vanilla extract, half a banana blended in a cup of tart cherry juice. All designed to calm the nervous system and prepare for sleep. The tart cherries a rich source of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and the banana loaded with magnesium, the calming mineral mixed with the tryptophan in soy, the sleep-inducing amino acid, made for the perfect drink to guarantee sweet dreams.
Ralph thanked Ruby and took a sip. He looked at Herb, “This event was great; just what my doctor ordered. She explained that self-care for men is not an easy concept or practice, but due to the disconnect, I experienced this past year I listened to her and learned that many men like me were feeling rudderless. Practicing self-care enabled me to focus on myself healthily and recognize I am my most important priority. As they say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Staying connected like this is a welcome form of self-care.”
LJ joined them, “We’re glad you came, my man. Our book club is thirteen years old. We started it for the intellectual stimulation books provide. However, over the years, it has become an important source of connection. Last month, Clark delivered a talk on the importance of self-care.” He focused on the four pillars of Health: Sleep, Diet, Exercise, and relationships.
Poor sleep increases men’s risk of heart disease, weight gain, low testosterone, mood disorders, and dementia. Sleep also has a significant impact on immune health and cancer. Insufficient sleep can significantly increase cancer risk, up to 40% in one large study. The risk is so great the World Health Organization has officially classified nighttime shift work as a “probable carcinogen.”
1. Keep a sleep routine: go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, including weekends
2. Only go to bed when you are sleepy
3. Avoid caffeine within 6 hours of bedtime, ideally nothing in the afternoon.
4. Avoid alcohol too late – may help you fall asleep but disrupts your deep, restorative sleep.
5. Eat and Exercise 3+ hours before bedtime.
6. Master the wind-down routine.
7. Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only. Minimize use of electronics.
8. Keep it cool and dark.
9. If you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing in another room for 20 minutes.
10. Oversleeping leads to sluggishness and confuses your biological clock for the next night.
Follow a Mediterranean diet. Some of the highest quality research on heart disease prevention has consistently highlighted this type of diet. Eating whole, minimally processed foods, including fruits and vegetables, leans meats and plant-based protein, healthy fats, and whole grains.
– eat less sugar and fewer refined carbohydrates to lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and several forms of cancer
– eat less red meat, more fish, and plant protein to improve your cholesterol and inflammatory markers.
– Vegetables (non-starchy and fibrous)
– Legumes (beans, peas, chickpeas, peanuts, lentils)
– Nuts and Whole Fruit (not juice)
– Whole Grains (as opposed to refined/milled)
– Fish a few times per week (cold water, fatty fish: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring, tuna)
– Fats (unsaturated oversaturated, and high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in the fish above, plus flaxseeds, chia seeds, and nuts)
– Dairy (fermented)
– Meat (white meat over red meat, and less overall is better)
– Alcohol (moderate/1–2 drinks per day)
Some who believe they are entitled to a sedentary lifestyle after decades of intense hard work are wrong. It is well established that regular, consistent physical activity, as little as 30 minutes a day, decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and erectile dysfunction. Adopting a new exercise even at a slower pace, such as yoga, tai-chi, or hiking and walking, contributes to aging well throughout one’s life.
John Donne, a 17th-century English poet, wrote, “No man is an island,” pointing out our interconnectedness. The pandemic of 2020 truly demonstrated the deadliness of isolation. Calls to mental health hotlines soared. Jeff Diamond wrote in his article; The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex, is a safe harbor. “We long for that safe harbor where we don’t have to pretend to be something we’re not to be chosen. We long for someone who sees us for who we are and wants us anyway, who can hold us and touch, not just our body, but our hearts and souls.”
Keith said, “Every year on our anniversary, Lily tells me she has reviewed my contract, and she is signing me up for another year. Although we both laugh, secretly, I am happy she still wants to be with me. She and our kids are my safe harbor.” Clark agreed, “There’s a 75-year study on well-being on men: building and maintaining good relationships is the key to keeping us happier and healthier. According to one study leader, there are two foundational elements to [quality relationships]: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
LJ raised his glass, “here’s to love, safe harbors, and our book club. May it always be a connection and refuge for men who enjoy good books, good conversation, and friendship.”