May 23, 2019
Father’s Day is fast approaching. Wives, partners, children and grandchildren will be expressing their love and gratitude to the men in their lives. Cards, barbeques and gatherings of all sorts will be on tap. It’s the conventional approach.
But what about trying something unconventional? Perhaps something even more meaningful and long-lasting than the most well-intended gift? A bit of tough love that promotes a man’s well-being and ultimately the fulfillment of those for whom he cares?
If there’s a man 50 or over in your life who leads a healthy lifestyle, congratulate them. They are an exception. Like most Americans only a tiny percentage of men practice healthy behaviors, and when they reach 50, often become more sedentary and neglect their health. As a consequence, they die younger than women, and rates of other diseases such as stroke, diabetes and chronic lung disease are all higher in men.
What’s alarming, but also provides hope, is that our lifestyle has the most influence on our health. Yes, through our individual choices we have the ability to impact our health more than any medicine. Unfortunately, too many Americans have abdicated this power. The good news is that the human body is particularly resilient. Changes in behavior can make a meaningful difference – even in men over 50!
In a focus group of 13 healthy men over 50, I posed the question: How can you motivate a man of that age to adopt a healthy lifestyle? Without hesitation, they uniformly indicated that this cohort is just not receptive to the subject. But when I pressed the men to think deeper and reflect on their experiences, some very interesting ideas emerged, including one that has particular meaning in the context of Father’s Day.
I found these men to be direct but compassionate. They were realistic about resistance to behavior change but keenly insightful about the potential to break through under the right circumstances – what the men called “moments of acceptance.” They defined them as occasions where the outcomes of an unhealthy lifestyle are obvious and grossly evident: gasping for air after climbing a flight of stairs, realizing that you can’t button your pants no matter how much you try, or, more seriously, the death of a loved one.
The moments can also include positive motivators, as in the case of Father’s Day, where men get an accentuated vision of what’s at stake, a man’s most cherished relationships. Whatever the trigger, the strategy advocated by the healthy men is that timing counts. An acknowledgement that you can increase the potential for behavioral change if the overture is approximate to a point when the recipient is more open to accept the message and seriously consider a change in lifestyle.
To get some insight on where to start a healthy lifestyle I posed the question to Dr. Daniel Hyman, a board-certified internal medicine physician at Cooper University Health Care and associate professor at the Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. He summarized his advice in six simple steps:
1. See your physician for an evaluation
2. With physician approval, embark on an exercise program that includes:
• Stretching before every workout
• A slow starting routine that includes aerobic exercise like biking or a treadmill, and sensible weight training which builds up to a 30- to 40-minute workout, five times a week.
3. Eat sensibly by adopting a low-fat diet that cuts the starches and focuses on lean meats
4. Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
5. Avoid sugary drinks
6. Get adequate sleep
So, let’s get real. Now, I’m a husband, dad and granddad. I really look forward to Father’s Day. The last thing I want is conflict or negativity. The anticipation drives home the meaning and purpose that the holiday holds. My two boys and one grandson represent a positive “in your face” reinforcement of what life’s all about. For me, Father’s Day is one of those moments where my focus is clearly and totally centered on the big picture. I suspect it’s the same for many men over 50 like me.
So, if you want to give a man in your life a Father’s Day gift that will last a lifetime, seize the moment. Give him the gift of health through your love and support of a lifestyle that can make a huge difference.
It’s the most powerful motivation he’ll ever get.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50."