Much like mothers, busy fathers juggling careers and family often put their own health concerns on the back burner. And for young dads in the trenches caring for babies and younger kids, it hardly seems like they have a minute to themselves, much less to sit in a doctor’s office.
But being neglectful of your own physical health and mental well-being can take its toll in the long run. As spouses and life partners get onboard to help dads maintain a healthier lifestyle, experts share their advice for keeping dads in tip-top shape, from the inside out.
A Smart Heart
The demands of new fatherhood can be both an exciting and stressful time, impacting men’s blood pressure and overall health. “Young dads need to worry about the risk factors they can control,” says Dr. Waqar Khan, a cardiologist in Houston, Texas, and author of Be Heart Smart (www.hearthealthbooks.com). “They can’t control what’s hereditary, but they can get a handle on stress levels, cholesterol and smoking.”
For starters, he recommends acknowledging a family history of heart disease, particularly those with fathers or grandfathers that had experienced premature heart disease under the age of 45. These men should get screened for diabetes and high cholesterol either by their primary care physician or a cardiologist. “They’ll order labs and arrange a normal EKG to test for an irregular heartbeat,” explains Khan. A stress test done in the office, during which a patient jogs or walks briskly while hooked up to an EKG, can also assess potential heart concerns.
To maintain a healthy heart overall, Khan recommends no smoking and starting a regular exercise program, aiming for 30 minutes of moderate exercises four to five times a week.
Food for Thought
As the saying goes, you are what you eat, but it can be challenging for dads on the go to maintain a sensible diet and resist snacking. Seattle-based dietician nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (www.eatrightpro.org) spokesperson Angel Planells reveals the struggle many Americans face in consuming the daily recommended intake of 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables. “If you consume only one per day, five to seven sound really daunting and will make you feel like a failure,” he says. “The important thing is trying to balance and not focusing on one meal or one nutrient, but looking at your habits over the course of a week.
Two areas in which Planells feels most men fall short in consuming are fiber and calcium. Ideally, men ages 31-50 should aim for 30 grams of fiber each day. “Adding a couple of servings throughout the day of fruits and vegetables at a meal or having nuts as a snack can easily increase your intake of fiber,” he says. Regarding calcium, promoting bone health is essential as men age. “When it comes to osteoporosis and hip fractures, we are seeing more and more men get fractures,” Planells adds. For dads that don’t drink milk, adding yogurt, cheese and other non-dairy items—sardines, almonds, leafy greens and even fortified orange juice—can provide sufficient calcium.
A fellow dad of two, Planells stresses the impact of setting a good example for your kids, which, in turn, can instill making healthy food choices. “As a role model for your children, it is important that you showcase a healthy relationship with foods and that you encourage your children to have a bold and adventurous palate,” he offers. Enjoying a slice of pizza or a piece of cake won’t do any last damaging, as long as you also incorporate healthy foods into your day.
The Skinny on Skincare
Sure, any good dad knows that kids need sunscreen, but oftentimes they fail to protect themselves when spending time outdoors. In fact, men are especially vulnerable and more susceptible to developing skin cancer as they age. “Research indicates that men diagnosed with melanoma between the ages of 15 and 39 were 55 percent more likely to die from melanoma than females diagnosed with melanoma in the same age group,” says Dr. Deanne Robinson, a dermatologist in Westport, Ct. (www.Moderndermct.com). By the time men turn 80 years old, their risk is three times higher than women of the same age.
Since regular sunscreen use is designed to reduce the risk of melanoma, she recommends slathering on a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen, especially in easy-to-miss areas like tops of feet, behind the knees, backs and tops of ears, scalp and neck. And don’t forget about the tops of heads; dads with clean-shaven heads shouldn’t rely on a hat alone.
To stay on top of skin care, visit a dermatologist for an annual skin check (or more often if skin cancer runs in the family). “Having your partner do a check the first of the month is a great way to monitor your skin and check for changes,” adds Robinson.