HERSHEY, Pa. — This Father’s Day, it might be time to set aside traditional gifts, like neckties and gift cards, for a different type of present: The gift of health.
The fact is, most men put their health last. In a 2019 study of more than 1,100 men conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, 65% of respondents said they avoided going to the doctor as long as possible, and 72% said they’d rather do chores like mowing the lawn instead.
“Men tend to take care of their cars more frequently than they do themselves,” said Dr. Eldra Daniels, a family medicine and primary care sports medicine physician who sees patients at Penn State Health Medical Group — Mount Joy and Penn State Health Lime Spring Outpatient Center. “But when men wait to see the doctor once their ‘check engine’ light comes on, they suffer major health problems that could’ve been prevented.”
Those problems include heart attacks — which are twice as common in men than women — and strokes, which can have life-changing consequences.
“The damage from a stroke can leave you with an inability to walk, talk or perform previously enjoyable activities,” said Daniels, “Approximately 80% of strokes are preventable by making healthy lifestyle changes and seeing a health care specialist who can screen for diseases that cause strokes.”
To keep dad healthy and ensure many more Father’s Days to come, Daniels recommends men take these steps:
Get a physical exam. In the same way routine oil changes help keep a car running smoothly, regular physicals help keep a man’s body in top shape. Daniels recommends men ages 30 to 50 get a physical every two to three years, while men 50 and older should have an annual physical examination. All health insurers cover these wellness exams, which will help men know their body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels. Men can also discuss their diet with their physician and get tips for healthy eating habits that, for example, may reduce cholesterol and heart risk.
During the exam, men should ask their doctors which screenings might be right for them, including screenings for men’s health conditions like prostate cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends that men get colonoscopies — tests that check for signs of colon cancer — starting at age 45.
Stop smoking. Tobacco use is linked to higher risks for heart attack, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. “If your father smokes, talking to him on Father’s Day about quitting smoking would be a wonderful gift,” Daniels said. Men ages 50 to 80 who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years may benefit from a lung cancer screening, performed with a low-dose CT scan.
Get active. While technology today puts everything at dad’s fingertips, it also reduces the need to get up and move around. “Regular exercise can reduce your risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and multiple other diseases,” Daniels said. For dads who haven’t been active in a while, Daniels recommends starting with an activity they enjoy — biking, walking, running. “But don’t immediately start with a daily two-mile run,” he said. Instead, begin gradually and work up to longer distances.
How to start the conversation
For dads who may not like talking about their health, starting the conversation can be tricky. Daniels recommends using questions like, “How are you feeling health-wise?” As the talk continues, emphasize the reasons why dad should watch his health ? most importantly, staying healthy for his children or grandchildren.
“I think the biggest gift we as doctors give our patients is the gift of time,” Daniels said. “Being able to give fathers more time to spend with their family is the most important thing we can offer.”
The Medical Minute is a weekly health news feature produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians and staff, and are designed to offer timely, relevant health information of interest to a broad audience.