Men’s Health Week: For Gregor Jaspers, ‘good health’ isn’t black and white

A balanced approach to health is only apt for the founder of The Grey.

This year, from June 14-20, health services, community groups, publications and brands alike will take the opportunity to celebrate Men’s Health Week. But the average Australian who identifies as male won’t - and it's anopportunity that, all too often, is tragically missed.

Because in his lifetime, the Australian male will experience a higher incidence of illness and accident, as well as a significantly shorter life expectancy than his female counterpart. He’ll be statistically less likely to seek help for any grievances relating to his health, physical or mental, and the numbers paint a sobering picture – Australian men take their own lives at four times the rate of women – one that’s significantly worse for marginalised demographics.

In light of a year that has prompted a radical shift in thinking about ideas of health – of the individual and as itrelates to the greater public good – how do we talk about the health of men? Of its physical, mental, interpersonal and spiritual manifestations; of its relationship to work and productivity; of its relationship to constructs ofmasculinity, ageing, self-care and the body?

Herewith, Amsterdam-based menswear and lifestyle buyer turned founder of The Grey, Gregor Jaspers, reflects on what ‘health’ means in light of a global health crisis - not to mention the competing demands of time, age and runninga business of one’s own.

What has your approach to your own health and wellness been like, historically speaking? Have you always been intentional about your health through diet, fitness or your mental wellbeing? Or has your attitude and approach changed over the years? If so, how?

I try to keep a balance in my life concerning my health. I take care of my diet, but do love a guilty pleasure now and then. I work out and try to keep my mental health on point with Pilates and meditation. As I grow older, I try to focus more on my mental health as I feel that this needs more attention.

This year, Men's Health Week has a direct focus on the health impacts of men's environments. How do you create an environment that’s conducive to good health, for yourself and others?

I decided a while ago to only gather people around me who give energy. I try to be a person that people come to when they have issues. In our office, I try to create an environment in which everybody feels free to talk about their personal life or issues [they have] going on, [or] that may be weighing heavy on a person's wellbeing.

How is the ongoing experience of the global pandemic reframing your ideas of health and wellness?

Being locked inside and having to trust your immune system shifted my mindset in how I live my life. Things we took for granted are no longer. Healthy people around me were getting sick and the most social friend became depressed. This made me realize we were living in a rat race in which unimportant things played the most important role. I tried to – and still am – trying to bring back balance in my day to day life. I am trying to do the same with The Grey.

What effect has a public health crisis had on the way you conduct your business, as someone operating in a business that’s adjacent to the health and wellness space?

With The Grey, we always tried to take a holistic approach to skincare, health and mental wellbeing, but now we are really trying to emphasise this with articles on immune system support, the importance of sleep for mental healthand wellbeing, and the importance of a well-balanced diet. We are working on a series with different professionals to address a healthy and well-balanced life.

You’ve spoken a lot in the past about the value of skincare as it relates to its anti-ageing properties. How have your attitudes toward ageing changed over the years?

If we talk about anti-ageing, my attitude has not changed as I feel a man’s face can have a wrinkle here and there but the skin should be in a great and healthy condition. This for me is great skin. If we talk about ageing in general, the journey you make, the people you meet and the lessons you learn all come in good and bad shapes that makeyou the person you are today. With ageing, I learnt to appreciate it and use it, so I welcome ageing.

As you’ve gotten older, how’ve you had to tweak your attitude to health to maintain your overall wellbeing? What are some tools you’ve developed in the maintenance of your health?

I noticed, like everybody else, that I bounce back less easily from a night out on the town and that at the end of the working week the battery was more empty physically and mentally than when I was a few years younger. To keep myself in balance, I try to build in moments for myself - whether it’s sport, reading, meditation or walking. This kept the balance and I started to watch my diet more. Less alcohol, more vegetables - this works for me. I am not the person that hits the gym six days a week or loses himself in full meditation programs. A combination of it [all] keeps me in balance.

The relationship we have with ourselves is perhaps our most significant. How has that relationship changed for you, as you’ve gotten older? Have you been able to be more self-forgiving over the years?

The relationship you have with yourself is also one of the most difficult ones. For me, getting older resulted in becoming more secure. I learned to trust my gut feeling. I’m not constantly looking for approval and validation from other people, so I can say that my relationship with myself has become stronger than ever.

Much of the noise in the self-improvement or self-optimization space presents a rosy picture of people always functioning at their highest capacity. As a business owner, what is your attitude toward ‘productivity’ as it relates to health, this idea that we have to always be working, and always be productive?

I am not always as productive as I want to be. Work is like a relationship. Sometimes it's up, sometimes it's down.When I started The Grey, I had this kind of obligation toward myself - that I needed to maximize every hour into productive work. In the end, I felt that my own company was my employer and I was the employee, creating a pressure I wanted to leave behind when I started out as a business owner. I realize now that it is okay to be less productive some days as it creates room for other things that in the end will benefit your company.

Much of the noise in the self-improvement or self-optimisation space presents a rosy picture of people always functioning at their highest capacity. As a business owner, what is your attitude toward ‘productivity’ as it relates to health, this idea that we have to always be working, and always be productive?

I am not always as productive as I want to be. Work is like a relationship. Sometimes it's up, sometimes it's down.When I started The Grey, I had this kind of obligation toward myself - that I needed to maximize every hour into productive work. In the end, I felt that my own company was my employer and I was the employee, creating a pressure I wanted to leave behind when I started out as a business owner. I realize now that it is okay to be less productive some days as it creates room for other things that in the end will benefit your company.

Some 70% of a man’s overall health is controllable through lifestyle factors - the rest is genetics. If you could offer a piece of actionable, insightful advice relating to improving one’s health and wellbeing, what would it be?

Think about how you fuel your body and mind, don’t expect to have a great condition, body or mental health with bad food and negative energy. What you put in will reflect the outcome, so think twice.


This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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