With Movember in swing once again and International Men’s Day on November 19th, this month puts men’s health in the spotlight.
We asked three men with very different stories to tell us about their own health journeys, and the moments that shaped their approach to self-care…
Tom Gozney, 37, lives in Hampshire with wife Laura, son Ty, four, and daughter Eden, two. His pizza oven business, Gozney (gozney.com), recently released a Signature Edition Roccbox, with £40 from each sale being donated to charities supporting people with drug and alcohol dependencies, including With You in the UK.
“My path to addiction probably began when I was a kid, struggling at school. I was dyslexic, which wasn’t recognised much then, and lightly bullied. At 13, I met a group of lads who’d hang out smoking weed, and for the first time ever, I felt like I’d found my place. By 16, we’d moved onto harder drugs and drinking, and I started getting into trouble.
“I felt guilty for the worry I was causing my family, but getting wasted enabled me to mask that. Towards the end of my teens, I started trying to calm down – which is when I realised I’d lost all control. Then one night I was violently attacked. Badly injured and traumatised, this was my turning point. Not long afterwards, I called my mum and said I was ready to get help.
“Two weeks after my 21st birthday, I checked into rehab for almost a year. It was life-changing – but it was back in the real world where the real recovery journey began, as I now had a void to fill. Cooking gave me an outlet. I’d get lost in the rituals of prepping food, and cooking for people bought new community and purpose. It eventually turned into a business, making pizza ovens, which essentially saved me. But although drugs were in the past, addiction was still part of my life – that’s been a never-ending learning curve. At first, I threw myself too deep into work. I was obsessed with checking emails, getting new deals, at the same time eating a lot and barely exercising, which took a toll on my health.
“It might sound incredibly simple, but the biggest challenge in my life has been finding balance. I put away my phone in the evenings now, so I can be present with my family. I move my body every day, whether it’s walking the dog, the gym, whatever. After neglecting my health for so long, this is a gift. And I try to laugh and have fun. That’s super important too.”
Dr Jeff Foster, 43, is a GP, founder of men’s health services H3 Health (drjefffoster.co.uk) and author of Man Alive: The Health Problems Men Face And How To Fix Them. He lives in Leamington Spa with his wife and two children, aged 10 and eight.
“I was diagnosed with type one diabetes when I was 17, which meant I’d need to monitor my blood glucose and take daily insulin injections for the rest of my life. I’d had classic symptoms – extreme, unquenchable thirst, peeing a lot – but it was still a shock. Going from being a healthy teenager to suddenly being told you’re facing a lifetime of injectable therapy was a kick in the nuts.
“Thankfully, I was already very into sports and fitness. My consultant at the time said this would be helpful for managing my blood sugar and give me a bit of a buffer. So, that’s what I’ve been doing for the 26 years since – exercising five days a week and trying to eat healthily – and I’ve been really lucky. I’ll always have type 1 but I’ve never had any complications or needed to be hospitalised because of diabetes, and my health is good. In fact, I’m probably a lot healthier than many people my age.
“Diabetes wasn’t the reason I chose to go into healthcare, and for years, I wouldn’t tell anyone about it, preferring to keep it private. But it’s definitely impacted my approach as a doctor. As much as it’s a hassle and [it] sucked being diagnosed at 17, it’s given me a much deeper level of understanding with patients, and enabled me to lead by example when talking to them about managing their health, and why things like getting enough sleep and exercise are so important. We all want that quick fix when something goes wrong with our health, but more often than not, it doesn’t work that way.”
Sean Conway, 41, is an endurance athlete and ‘Fit For Autumn’ ambassador for alcohol-free craft beer brand, Athletic Brewing Company (uk.athleticbrewing.com/pages/fit-for-autumn). He lives in North Wales with wife Caroline and kids Montgomery, three-and-a-half, and Sebastian, one.
“From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been into photography and the outdoors. My dream was to be a National Geographic photographer, going on adventures and shooting out in nature – the camera was going to be my passport to travelling the world. But in my 20s, I got stuck. While fortunate to land work doing school portraits, which grew into a successful business, life wasn’t what I’d hoped for. Sure, I was earning money – but everything felt flat. Not feeling challenged and spending all my time indoors took a toll on my mental health.
“Then my girlfriend at the time broke up with me, telling me I’d become boring and dull – and she was right. I’d lost my passion and drive. Suddenly I was 30, alone, and it really hit me just how much I’d gone down the wrong path. I’d chosen money over health and happiness, and things needed to change.
“After selling my share in the business (for £1!), I decided to go for it and pursue a life of endurance challenges and adventure. In the decade since then, I’ve cycled the globe, completed the ‘Ultimate British Triathlon’ from John O’Groats to Land’s End, and became the first person in history to swim the length of Great Britain in 2013, amongst other things, raising money for charity along the way and becoming a motivational speaker.
“It hasn’t all been easy – I’ve faced injuries, obstacles, and securing sponsorship takes work, but I’ve learned so much. I’m happier, and much more in tune with who I am and taking care of myself. When I’m training, keeping my alcohol intake low really helps.
“For me, physical fitness and wellbeing go hand in hand, and spending time outdoors is essential for my mental health. I’ve even installed an outdoor shower and an ice bath and sauna in my garden, so I can be outside as much as possible.”