As fathers, we often put our families first and our own needs last. The stress and responsibility of parenthood can be overwhelming, leaving little time or energy for self-care. And sometimes that overwhelming stress can push us in the other direction – driving us to overindulge in work, sports, hobbies, drugs, alcohol, food or any other activity as a way to escape the pressures. Whatever end of the spectrum you fall, neither of these two opposite responses to stress are good.
The truth is, neglecting our own well-being or using “escapes” to manage the stress and responsibility can have serious consequences for ourselves and those we love. That’s why we created this four-part blog series dedicated to helping dads improve their mental, physical, and emotional health.
In this series we tackle some of the major challenges facing dads today, from the taboo of discussing mental health to the struggle of finding time for exercise and healthy eating. We understand the unique pressures that come with fatherhood, and we want to provide practical tips and insights to help you prioritize your health and well-being.
Whether you’re dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression, struggling to find time for exercise, or feeling disconnected from your emotions, this series is for you. Our goal is to empower you to become the healthiest and happiest version of yourself, not just for your own sake but for the benefit of your family and loved ones.
So, join us as we dive into this important topic, sharing valuable insights and advice from experts and real dads alike. It’s time to start prioritizing your health and well-being so that you can be the best dad you can be.
Part 2 – Prioritizing Physical Health and How to Do it
We all want to be there for our kids and provide for them in every way possible. But when we’re not taking care of our physical health, it can be challenging to keep up with the demands of parenting. That’s why it’s important to make physical health a priority.
Physical health isn’t just about looking good or impressing others. It’s about feeling good and being able to do the things we love. By taking care of our physical health, we can be better dads and better role models for our children.
According to the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation, 70% of men’s health problems are preventable by adopting healthy habits. Finding ways to adopt more healthy habits early on in your fatherhood journey can pay big dividends in the long run and support a strong and healthy family in every sense – not just physically.
But in case you’re not convinced, here are three important impacts of taking care of your physical health as a dad. I’ve included research insights on exercise and eating well. These are two “healthy habits” every dad can adopt:
1. Exercise Can Help Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Research from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America shows that exercise can be a powerful tool for reducing stress and anxiety. Exercise releases endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals that can improve mood and reduce stress levels. When we’re less stressed, we’re better equipped to handle the challenges of parenting.
“The best thing I’ve found for my mental and physical health is exercise. It helps me stay sharp, focused, and happy,” said American actor and father, Chris Pratt.
2. A Healthy Diet Can Improve Mental Health
According to a study published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine, a healthy diet can have a positive impact on mental health. The study found that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins was associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety. By focusing on a healthy diet, we can improve our physical health and also benefit our mental health.
The biggest barrier I experience in consistently eating healthy is time and convenience. It takes time to plan and prepare to eat healthy and less healthy options are often more convenient or readily available (think Tim Horton’s drive through…). But don’t let that stop you. I’ve committed to eating whole foods as much as I can, and this makes a big difference for me.
3. Physical Activity Can Improve Brain Function
Research from the University of British Columbia shows that regular physical activity can improve cognitive function, such as memory and attention. As dads, we need to be able to think clearly and make quick decisions. By prioritizing physical activity, we can improve our cognitive function and be better equipped to handle the demands of parenting.
I’ve noticed that I feel the most energized, motivated, and creative when I’m working out. The thoughts and ideas that I generate while exercising leave my mind feeling alert, excited and clear on what I need to do next. For me, I need this to feel my best.
So, how can dads improve their physical health?
1. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise can improve our physical health in countless ways. It can improve cardiovascular health, build strength, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. It’s also a great way to reduce stress and improve our mood. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day, such as a brisk walk or a bike ride.
Find ways to include your kids or the whole family for an added benefit. I personally love playing “grounders” with my kids at the park. In between being “it”, I use the playground to do dips, push ups, step ups or hanging leg raises. Some days I’ve left the playground dripping with sweat while also laughing and playing with my kids. There are so many other benefits beyond my physical health including setting a positive example, creating memories and building connection with my kids.
2. Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet can have a significant impact on our physical health. Try to focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Avoid processed foods and sugary drinks, which can contribute to chronic health conditions like obesity and diabetes.
The best way I’ve found to apply this consistently comes down to three things, i) planning, ii) preparation, and iii) discipline.
Plan for healthy meals and snacks. That could mean creating a weekly meal plan, working with your partner on food choices, identifying specific likes and preferences and ensuring they are regularly stocked at home. It could also include planning your work/travel meals based on healthier food choices instead of convenience. My coach used to say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Taking this step is the most crucial and can help make 80% of the work of eating healthy easier.
Prepare in advance. We’re starting to buy/prepare larger amounts to have leftovers available. This reduces the prep time for future meals and can reduce the need for convenience foods that are often grab and go and less nutritious. Now that it’s BBQ season, I fire up the grill and load it up with proteins that will last a few days and can be used in 2-3 other meals the next few days. When I worked in athletics, one of the strength coaches used to tell athletes to prepare food twice per week. Once on Sunday to last till Tuesday night, and again on Wednesday to last till Saturday. To me, that was a great way to divide the week and help streamline the plan for meals, shopping, and food preparation time.
Discipline. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what we put into our bodies. I’ll admit this is my weakest point of the three. Sometimes I just want that sweet (or salty) treat! But over time, and as life gets busier and I have less time to exercise, those times of indulgence are starting to catch up to me. I notice it and have committed to being more disciplined. The last few weeks have proven to me that I can make the hard choice of healthier food choices, or not to eat ‘just one more’.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial for our physical health. Lack of sleep can contribute to a range of health issues, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and try to establish a consistent sleep schedule.
This one might be challenging for some dads who often brag about the ability to be more productive, work harder than others, or say, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. The problem is that your lack of sleep isn’t helping your overall health.
While some periods of less-than-optimal sleep may be needed (i.e. the newborn stage or intense project deadlines), this continued pattern of less than the required amounts can be detrimental to your health. It’s also important that you pay attention to the quality of your sleep.
The Center for Disease Controls also says, “Although the amount of sleep you get each day is important, other aspects of your sleep also contribute to your health and well-being. Good sleep quality is also essential. Signs of poor sleep quality include not feeling rested even after getting enough sleep, repeatedly waking up during the night, and experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders (such as snoring or gasping for air). Improving sleep quality may be helped by better sleep habits or being diagnosed and treated for any sleep disorder you may have.”
4. Make Time for Self-care
Self-care is an essential part of maintaining physical health. Take time for yourself to do the things you enjoy, such as playing music, pursuing a hobby or spending time outdoors. By prioritizing self-care, you can reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.
I think it’s important to address the fact that some dads may overinvest in selfish pursuits. This is not self-care. It’s self-indulgence that takes away from their health or family’s health. For some dads this could look like spending every weekend at the golf course, mindlessly watching hours of sports, spending entire weekends playing video games, or any activity that takes them out of optimal mental, emotional and physical presence with their family. Each family and relationship is different, so the most important factor is evaluating this: do you feel energized, interested, and ready for your family relationships after the activity? If the answer is yes, and your partner support you, then you’re leaning towards self-care.
Also, because some dads view their primary role as provider and take responsibility, it can be hard to see the benefit of self care. For these dads, the challenge is in prioritizing themselves. One way to do this is by choosing one activity that you enjoy and putting it in the calendar. Take the next step by doing it with one other person – maybe a friend who also enjoys the activity. Then hold each other accountable for keeping it in the calendar. This way you build social connection at the same time as investing your self-care.
It’s clear that physical health is a crucial aspect of fatherhood. With regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and self-care, we improve our capacity to show up as a parent and partner.
Fathers not only benefit themselves with they take care of their physical health, but so do their children and partners. By following a healthy lifestyle routine, dads can be better equipped to handle the demands of parenting, become better role models for their children, and lead happier, healthier lives. As Canadian actor and father, Ryan Reynolds said, “Take care of yourself, and everything else will fall into place.”
For specific resources connect with Dad Central. Download a free resource, read additional blogs, enroll in our fatherhood fundamentals course, or just email us at [email protected].
About The Author – Drew Soleyn
I’m the Director of Dad Central Ontario, Founder of Connected Dads, and a Career Coach at the Queen's Smith School of Business. As an ICF and Maxwell Leadership certified Coach, Trainer & Speaker, I help struggling dads show up at their best for the people who matter most.
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