Promoting Physical Activity for Men’s Health Month

Tuesday, Jun 25, 2024 • Jaelon Jackson :

By Jaelon Jackson
School of Social Work

Jose Soto (coach) , Doughlas Gutierrez, and Raul Canizales (coach)
From left: Jose Soto (coach) , Doughlas Gutierrez, and Raul Canizales (coach)


A staff member in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington uses his passion for martial arts, particularly Muay Thai, to help improve his physical and mental health outcomes.

Growing up in a household enjoying action movies featuring Bruce Lee, Wesley Snipes, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, Doughlas Gutierrez, a videographer and communications assistant, found himself drawn to “the art of eight limbs,” better known as Muay Thai.

It is called “the art of eight limbs” because it is a type of martial arts where participants can use their fists, elbows, knees and shins. Muay Thai fighters must be in excellence physical shape.

Gutierrez began dabbling in kickboxing to stay in shape for soccer, but it was not until the COVID-19 pandemic when he truly embraced Muay Thai. During those challenging times, martial arts became a crucial outlet for him, offering both physical exercise and emotional relief.

"Martial arts was the only thing that kept me sane and allowed me to push through those dark times," Gutierrez said. "When the impact of COVID took everything from me, martial arts gave me a second chance."

Social Work practitioners say Gutierrez’ physical exercise routine supports research and evidence-based practice as a key to improving mental health outcomes.

Dr. Kathy Lee, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, says it is important whether you are an older or young adult to not adopt a sedentary lifestyle. Lee’s research primarily focuses on older adults, but says it is just as important for people like Gutierrez who are still in their 20s.

Recognizing the detrimental effects of sedentary behavior, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Lee’s research team created a smartphone app to encourage daily physical activity at home. Dr. Lee’s interdisciplinary research team included professors from various disciplines such as civil engineering, computer science, kinesiology and psychology.

The app included individual training protocols, reminders, and social communication features, which participants reported had significant physical and emotional benefits.

"Our study aimed to develop and test interventions to increase physical activity among older adults, a group particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of sedentary behavior," Dr. Lee said. 

"Participants reported various benefits, including physical improvements like weight loss and better exercise habits, and emotional benefits like improved mood and increased motivation."

As we observe Men's Health Awareness Month (also called Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month), both Gutierrez's experiences with Muay Thai as a young adult and Dr. Lee's research with older adults highlights the crucial role of physical activity in supporting mental health throughout the human life cycle. 

Social Work practitioners say structured physical activity can help individuals overcome personal struggles, improve fitness, and build supportive communities at any age. 

Gutierrez noted how supportive environments are in martial arts.

"There is something special about being surrounded by people that can in theory hurt you, but rather form close bonds and see you as one of their own," Gutierrez said.

Dr. Lee emphasizes the holistic benefits of physical activity. 

"By fostering a sense of community and support, our study addresses both the physical and mental health aspects. Improving physical function in older adults can significantly enhance their overall well-being,” Dr. Lee said.

Both stories reflect the power of physical activity to transform lives, whether through martial arts or other structured exercise programs. For Gutierrez, Muay Thai is a tool for personal growth and resilience. 

For Dr. Lee, promoting physical activity among adults combats the negative effects of aging and sedentary lifestyles. 

Together they illustrate how different approaches to physical fitness can offer similar benefits, bridging the gap between individual passions and scientific research in the pursuit of better health for all.

Men's Health Month serves as a reminder of the importance of addressing mental well-being alongside physical health. 

Social Work mental health providers say engaging in physical activities like Muay Thai or tailored exercise programs can provide significant mental health benefits, reducing stress, and fostering a sense of accomplishment and community.