Recharging men’s mental and physical health

Aug 5 2019

Jim Todhunter and Dr Myles Young

The internationally renowned SHED-IT (Self-Help, Exercise and Diet using Information Technology) research program from the University of Newcastle has been redeveloped with a renewed focus on helping men lift their mood, not just lose weight.

Previous study outcomes showed that men shed an average of 5 to 10 kilograms during the program while also improving their waist size, blood pressure, body fat percentage and quality of life. Follow-up investigations also found that these benefits were maintained long-term.

Now called SHED-IT Recharge, the new trial is aiming to recruit 120 men who’ll receive new, cutting-edge strategies on feeling mentally well, along with existing resources designed to teach men how to lose weight, become more active and improve their diet without eating like a rabbit.

“SHED-IT was designed from the outset to engage and appeal to blokes, who are far outnumbered by women in weight loss projects,” lead researcher Dr Myles Young, a member of HMRI’s Cardiovascular Research Program, said.

“Importantly, it’s an online program, which makes it convenient, confidential and accessible. While SHED-IT doesn’t include any face-to-face contact, our three-year results are comparable to studies where men attended up to 30 sessions with a trained health professional.”

Of the 200 participants in the last SHED-IT trial, 20 per cent reported concerning levels of depressive symptoms before the program started, according to Dr Young. But after the men lost weight and improved their lifestyle behaviours, these symptoms had substantially reduced.

“Compared to other studies, these findings were outstanding, particularly as some men are reluctant to attempt weight-loss or engage with traditional mental health services,” Dr Young adds. “As a result, we are now specifically looking for men who want to lose a few kilos, but who have also been feeling down or experiencing other low mood symptoms like frustration, tiredness or stress.”

Former Newcastle cab driver and manager Jim Todhunter can attest to the benefits, having joined the original SHED-IT program at 63 years of age and tipping the scales at 102 kilograms. After six months he weighed just over 87 kilograms and has remained within a kilogram of that figure for seven years.

“At my heaviest I was 116 kilograms and just couldn’t get below 100,” Mr Todhunter said. “Then I saw a story about SHED-IT in the paper and thought it could be my saviour. 

“You can’t keep me away from chocolate, and I still drink full-cream milk and full-strength beer, but I have it in moderation. I love walking as well – if I don’t get a walk in, I haven’t fulfilled my day.”

With joint funding by the Heart Foundation and HMRI supporter Daracon, SHED-IT Recharge will commence at the end of August. Recruitment is open now for men aged 18-70, who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) from 25-42 kg/m2 and recent low mood symptoms (as outlined above).

Contact recharge@newcastle.edu.au or phone 4921 2067.

* The research team for this study comprises Dr Myles Young, Prof Philip Morgan, Prof Frances Kay-Lambkin, Prof Robin Callister, Prof Clare Collins, Prof Brian Kelly and Mr Ryan Drew from the University of Newcastle. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.