Men’s Health Week: How Alex Penfold finds a fine balance between worlds

Men’s Health Week: How Alex Penfold finds a fine balance between worlds

Jun 18, 2021Nicholas Carolan

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?

For San Francisco-based Alex Penfold, co-founder of Jaxon Lane, it comes as little surprise that balance is the cornerstone of his approach to health. Penfold founded his company on the premise of high-quality, accessible Korean skin-care for men with his wife, Jen, with whom he parents two young children. Evidently, theirs is a dynamic with balance at its centre. At work as much as at home and where matters of health are concerned, it’s the guidingedict.

Herewith, Penfold reflects on the art of finding said balance between competing factions.

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?

Throughout my 20s and early 30s, fitness was always top of mind, with diet and mental wellbeing being a distantsecond. Life eventually catches up with you and you realize that you need a balanced approach to all aspects ofyour life to feel your best.

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

I keep thinking about the idea of balance in my life. I want to be fit and healthy, but also make the most of opportunities to spend time with my family and friends. Pre-pandemic, I had a structured gym routine but now findmyself exercising in ways that don't take me away from my wife and children for long periods of time.

How has fatherhood changed your approach to your own health and wellbeing, now that you have the health of two children to concern yourself with?

Having a child? Say goodbye to your current plans as they all take a backseat to the needs of your children. There's a crazy ‘just get through this period’ for the first year of your child's life, but it's important to take a step back and check in with yourself and your own wellbeing. How is the relationship with your partner now that kids have beenthrown in the mix? Don't forget to pay attention to the partnership that landed you with these cute, needy children.

Your life and work is inseparable from that of your partner. How have they helped shape your attitude or actions toward your own health and wellbeing?

Starting a business with your spouse is a huge decision and not to be taken lightly. Jen and I have always been pretty good communicators, but found that adding business partners into the mix requires open communication onsteroids. We make an effort to check in with each other and make sure we're on the same page (at home or in theoffice) and not let issues drag out.

You’ve spoken about your habit of secretly using your wife’s skincare as being partly responsible for the genesis of Jaxon Lane. Did you ever feel there was a stigma attached to the idea of taking care of your health or appearance? If so, do you think that stigma still exists - what do you think informs it?

Jen came home one evening and found me up in bed with one of her sheet masks on. The humor of the scene was part of the reason Jaxon Lane was born. Jen thought it was hilarious. We started wondering if there wereother men out there willing to try out a sheet mask. There's a whole crop of men out there going to the gym, eating well, dressing well, grooming their hair and beard, which leaves skincare as the final frontier of looking great. The feedback from our customers and current data trends all point towards men wanting to take care of themselvesand feeling no shame letting others know about it. We survey men in their 50s, 60s and 70s where we still see some bias against self-care, but spend some time with recent college grads and you'll find an open book to theperfect, lightweight, daily sunscreen.

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?

When we first launched Jaxon Lane, there was plenty of time for big picture thinking and strategy. As our business has grown, we find ourselves endlessly pushed and pulled by the operations and sales side. To be honest, efficiency and productivity have become ever more important in order to manage all the different aspects of the business and maintain a work-life balance. The more productive we are during the day, the less work we have to doafter the kids go to bed. I think the key to striking the right balance is being productive while you're working, butthen knowing when to hit the off-switch to spend time with friends and family.

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?

Everything in moderation.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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