In his children’s eyes, Dad is the strongest, fastest, most unstoppable guy on the planet. But if he’s a superhero, then middle-age health troubles could be his kryptonite. So instead of gifting Superman socks or another “Top Pop” mug this Father’s Day, give him a push toward wellness. Dr. Pooya Rostami shares some proactive health steps to keep Dad feeling like a Man of Steel. (Don’t worry: He’ll only have to swap his cape for a patient gown temporarily.)
Superheroes may be known for their strength and speed, but keeping Dad in top form isn’t just about physical fitness—wellness involves mental health, too. A 2008 study in Social Science & Medicine notes that depression in American males peaks at age 50. “Unfortunately, when it comes to mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and stress disorders, men are less likely than women to acknowledge there’s an issue and seek help,” points out Dr. Rostami.
As Dad’s sidekicks, family members can:
- encourage open conversation about emotions
- join him in relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation and stress-relieving hobbies
- help him foster a work-life balance
- look out for red flags such as mood swings, withdrawal from friends, low energy, hostility and changes in eating habits
If you notice something’s off, prompt him to seek professional support.
You can also reassure Dad that doctors aren’t villains. “The notion that seeing the doctor is a sign of weakness is outdated. Society now celebrates a more proactive approach to health,” says Dr. Rostami. However Dad gets there, whether driving, zooming (thanks to telehealth) or flying through the air, urge him to see a primary care physician annually. In addition to standard checks of height, weight, blood pressure, vision and hearing, the doctor will ensure he’s up-to-date on preventive screenings for:
- Hypertension: High blood pressure puts him at risk for cardiovascular disease, so blood pressure should be measured yearly at a doctor’s office or more frequently with contributing factors like poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive drinking or tobacco use.
- Cholesterol: Beginning at age 35, his annual physical should also include a cholesterol screening to gauge LDL (bad) cholesterol and other lipoproteins.
- Diabetes: A blood test may be ordered to check for this disease, to which middle-aged men are particularly susceptible.
- Cancer: The American Cancer Society generally recommends men have a colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 45 and a prostate cancer screening at age 50 (or earlier if family history shows a higher risk).
Cancer and heart disease are the top two causes of death in men 45 and older. “Screenings like these can detect disease early when it’s most treatable,” explains Dr. Rostami, noting that genetics and lifestyle can influence a person’s screening guidelines.
Safeguarding your superhero’s health also requires attention to the basics: regular exercise, a balanced diet and quality sleep:
- “Adults need at least 150 minutes of physical activity weekly, including strength, cardio and flexibility training,” says Dr. Rostami. “Prolonged sitting, excessive screen time and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a wide range of health problems, like cardiovascular disease, obesity, metabolic syndrome and musculoskeletal issues.” So, make exercise a family affair with hiking, biking, sports or group workouts.
- To fuel your adventures, lean on healthy fats and fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. “Limit sugary drinks, processed foods, saturated fat and salt,” says the doctor. And add alcohol and tobacco to the list of health offenders, too.
- As for shuteye, it’s best to leave midnight rescues to the Dark Knight. To promote good ZZZs, turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before sleep, follow a consistent routine and avoid caffeine and large meals prior to bed. If Dad snores loudly or suffers from daytime sleepiness or fatigue, sleep apnea may be the culprit. Rather than dismiss these symptoms as a side effect of aging, seek medical guidance.
Thankfully, getting Dad to the doctor shouldn’t be a battle royale. “There’s a growing recognition among men that maintaining good health leads to a full, productive life and positively impacts the family,” Dr. Rostami says. “Self care is now viewed as responsible and even admirable.”