Men are hit harder than women by the worst excesses of COVID-19 and complications from the virus.
But what are the factors that make men’s health outcomes so much worse?
Why does being overweight and inflamed have a particularly hard impact on men?
And what is it about the differences in male and female fat storage patterns that play such a prominent role for health?
Ultimate Performance founder Nick Mitchell discusses the key issues around COVID-19 that affect men’s health with Content Manager Ben Kenyon in this insightful video interview.
BEN KENYON: Why has COVID had such an impact on men? And what is it specifically about men’s health that seems to give them such poor outcomes with COVID?
NICK MITCHELL: COVID appears to have hit men much harder than women because men don’t look after themselves in the long run. And COVID appears to be a disease that hits the old, the infirm and the very, very inflamed. The very, very inflamed means the people that are obese and the overweight. The statistics are there, it’s irrefutable, this is more likely to be a man.
Also, women are less likely because of the protective benefits of estrogen, to have these high levels of inflammation, even if they are overweight. So, if you’re obese, it’s much better to be an obese woman than an obese man. You’re running a much greater risk if you’re an obese man than if you’re an obese woman.
One of the things that we’ve seen this is purely anecdotal, but we’ve done this with tens of thousands of people, and a lot of my colleagues in the wider fitness world agree with me on this. There are two different types of fat that you can almost palpate – that you can touch, and that you can grab. Turn to your side, grab your love handle. If it’s soft and squishy, this is better than if it’s hard, and it’s almost like marbled fat.
Now, no woman wants to be told that fat is good; it’s soft and squishy. They don’t want to hear that, but it’s better to have that, and you’re far more likely to find that with women than you are with men. Far, far more likely. Every single practitioner listening to this would know this if they’ve done a lot of calliper work, skinfold readings and things like that. So that type of hard fat is an indication of inflammation. Inflammation is a real problem for people, for raising people’s susceptibility to the ravages of COVID-19.
BEN: It’s really interesting, because this is something that we focus on a lot at U.P., and obviously, with the Body Prophet system that we use, it is inflammation and body fat. And I think a lot of men don’t have that education about the difference between hard fat, inflamed fat and more pliable, malleable fat.
NICK: I’ve never read it. I mean, that’s my theory. I’ve never read this as a thing – it’s anecdotal. But it’s across thousands and thousands of people. You’re far more likely to get hard fat on someone, on a man, than on a woman. And then what happens with, again, across thousands and thousands of clients, I’ve seen it so many times, as they get healthier and they improve their nutritional quality, the weight will shift a little bit, but the quality of the fat that you touch, that you grab changes and becomes softer and more pliable and we think when it becomes softer and more pliable, we think it’s probably easier to utilise for energy.
In other words, it’s easier for the body to go, “I’m going to get rid of this”. And then, of course, the problem with fat is we store our toxins in fat cells. So fat cells don’t just sit there as potential stores of energy, they are full of toxins, and they do a whole range of things that are bad for us. For example, the more fat you carry, the less testosterone that you produce will get used in a way that you want it to get used.
In actual fact, fat cells contain an enzyme called aromatase, and that enzyme will convert the testosterone that your testes produce into estrogen. Hence ‘man boobs’. So fat is a vicious cycle. Being overweight is a vicious cycle. On every single level for both men and women, but it’s worse for men. And I think that is one of the critical reasons why men have poorer health outcomes in general than women.
BEN: Is it that inflammation and that central fat that gives rise to inflammation and the problems that long-term inflammation can bring?
NICK: Well, yes, as you said, central adiposity. So, in other words, carrying fat around your trunk. So fat legs, not a problem for your health, fat legs have not been associated as a problem with your health.
So, women often get fat legs. Men don’t get fat legs. Men can often have little spindly limbs – upper and lower – and this barrel of a torso. That’s a ticking time bomb. Anybody listening to that, if that’s you, that’s a ticking time bomb. A beer belly (that doesn’t have to come from beer) is visceral fat – fat, not under your skin, that you can grab; fat sat around your organs and squeezing your organs. So, your organs don’t work as well. Again, it’s a total disaster. And I think they’ll never do the studies on this, but I’m absolutely convinced if you were to look at the COVID victims under the age of 60, let’s say, you’re going find a massively disproportionate number of them have visceral fat issues.
BEN: I think a lot of men think in the short term maybe think about aesthetics, but has COVID and this whole thing started to shift the focus for men about thinking more about the long-term health? Or do you think it should be getting more men to really consider about being overweight or being at risk?
NICK: COVID has been a universal wake-up call for everyone in terms of their health. So, I feel everyone, vanity is still there; it’s not gone away, it’s never going to go away. It’s a universal concept is vanity. We’ve all got it, and we’ve had it from time immemorial, right? It’s just there. And now and for a period of time, however long that will be, because of the COVID fallout, there’s a great, there’s definitely a greater awareness of health, for sure. Which means putting aside economic uncertainties; we’re looking at a boom for the fitness industry, I think, and the fitness industry should capitalize on that by grasping the opportunity and helping as many people as possible as opposed to just talking about it.
BEN: And this is where we earn our salt as professionals, then, isn’t it, is actually showing that, I think we can pretty much say that 90% of people out there, their health will have suffered over this past 12 months, especially men being more sedentary, drinking more, eating more, not being able to access the gym, poorer mental health. How do we as an industry help men emerge from this healthier, with better habits and stuff?
NICK: Well, they’re calling it COVID 15. Have you heard of COVID 15? The COVID 15, the average weight gain from an adult, is 15lbs. So,7kg, that’s the average weight gain. That’s a real problem because all the studies in the United States have shown that people in the U.S., with its monstrously bad obesity problem, they don’t gain weight steadily month after month after month. What happens with them is they gain weight over holiday periods and in the U.S. that’s Thanksgiving till the new year, which is what, five or six weeks, probably. In the U.K., we have a one-week Christmas period, and that, by the way, might be one of the
reasons why the U.S. and U.K. have different obesity levels.
So, what happens with people in general is, we put weight on over a certain period, and then we go back to normal, and we don’t lose the weight, but we don’t put it on again, and then there’s another holiday period, we put it on. And that cycle repeats for decades and decades, and 20 years later, all of a sudden, you look down, and you can’t see your belt because your belly is in the way; it very slowly comes on you. The real challenge for people with the COVID-15 problem is how are they going to shift that weight.