Of all the stereotypes about fathers, this one might be closest to the truth: Fathers are notoriously resistant to being told what to do. (Well, that’s probably true for many non-dads as well.) But as a provider and all-around hero, your father may be the only one who thinks he’s invulnerable. Part of the challenge may be to help him get healthy without him necessarily knowing you’re doing it.
Here are a few tricks for helping to get your father on a healthier track.
Motivating dad to be active
Is your father hermetically sealed to the couch? Does he refuse to work out, no matter what you say? You’ve discovered the first rule of motivation: Nagging doesn’t work. The fact is, most people won’t exercise unless they see the value in it. You’ll need to discover the “hook” that provides the motivation to change, which will require patience and time on your part.
Whether it’s an appeal to his vanity (looking slimmer) or to his sense of pleasure (having fun), you can introduce activities that will make a difference over time. If he used to go golfing, suggest going again—with you. If he likes gardening, pitch in and you’ll both get a workout. If there’s a new gym in town, suggest trying it out together. Don’t just give him a set of gift-wrapped barbells and call it a day: put some skin in the game and get active with him by making it part of a routine you do together. Make it a regular routine you do together.
Motivating dad to eat better
Getting your dad to change his diet may be an even taller order. Changing one’s diet at any age can be tough, let alone after a lifetime habit of cheeseburgers, chips or just too much junk food.
If your father is overweight, you may be able to change up his eating patterns by choosing and preparing his foods yourself. When healthy food is prepared and ready to eat, there’s no need to reach for snacks or, heaven forbid, go out for fast food. This is another area that requires time and commitment on your part to make it work.
Try introducing new dishes gradually, in smaller portions, choosing foods with color and variety. (Handing him a plate of plain spinach salad is a nice healthy start, but won’t bode well for success over the long term.) And some subtle propaganda could help, too: Magazines or websites that describe the horrors of cholesterol and obesity could drive home the message. Again, your participation can make all the difference. If you can’t prepare his meals, try treating him to lunch regularly—at a high-quality salad bar.
Motivating dad to get health screenings
There are a few ways to make the case for your dad to get a checkup.
If your father is reluctant to look after his own health, he may need to be reminded of any health issues that run in his family—cancer, heart disease, diabetes or stroke. Many diseases show no symptoms at first, so explain to your father that he needs to get health screenings while he still feels OK.
You may want to take the common-sense approach, explaining how conditions become harder (and more expensive) to treat the longer they are ignored. Finally, if you can hint to him that his family is depending on him, he may realize he needs to step up and get his regular checkups. Try scheduling your father’s screenings on the same days as yours. That way, appointments won’t be missed, and you’ll be motivating each other to go. Plus, you can be there to help answer the doctor’s questions and expedite any other tests that need to be made.
Remember, the biggest part of your gift is You
Whether it’s setting appointments, getting to the doctor’s office, navigating a new gym or taking a bike ride, they all have the best chance of success when you’re involved. Make it easier for your dad to arrange his paperwork and get to where he’s going. Schedule new activities together, and make a day of it. Just going for a pleasant walk with your dad can be the start of a whole new way of life for him … and for you, too.
Men’s Health Month is a nationwide program meant to raise awareness of preventable health problems among men and boys, with a focus on early detection and treatment. If your father needs to go to the doctor, you can find a primary care physician in our provider directory.