Finding out that you’re going to be a father is exciting first, and overwhelming second. So first off, congratulations! I know that as you tell your friends and family your big news, you’ll be flooded with tons of advice on how to hit the whole fatherhood thing out of the park. As a doctor (and a dad!), my advice to you is less about your pregnant partner or your future child. Actually, it’s all about you. Here are five reasons why, as a dad-to-be, it’s the perfect time to get serious about your health.
1. You weren’t born yesterday
You’re not getting any younger, dad! Typically, when men reach their thirties they naturally begin to lose muscle mass. Maybe you’ve noticed your energy levels and metabolism aren’t what they used to be. It’s a great time to wise up about nutrition. I encourage baby steps towards better habits over a full-blown crash diet. You can start small by paying attention to your portion sizes, and setting a goal of incorporating more veggies into each meal. And check the calorie count on your favorite microbrew—it’s impressive how many empty calories you can drink in one sitting without realizing it. If you’re expecting a child, your partner is definitely cutting out alcohol and probably paying special attention to nutrition, too. Getting into healthier habits yourself can double as supportive solidarity. Take advantage of it!
2. Having a baby changes everything
A new baby can drastically change the amount of time that parents have to exercise and take care of themselves. I encourage dads to be creative, and accept that their old routines may not fit into your new schedule. If you find that the days tend to ‘get away from you,’ consider the benefits of an early morning workout routine. While it can take some sleep and life adjustments, it’s a great way to feel energized for the day. Plus, there’s no need to worry about fitting in a workout after work, or before bedtime. (Nighttime exercise can negatively affect your sleep quality.) I know a lot of my patients walk, run or bike to work, which is a good way to get in exercise during what is otherwise dead time sitting behind the wheel. Taking care of a newborn isn’t easy, so be gentle with yourself. Remember, any physical activity is better than none at all. Burping isn’t as good for you as burpees, but it’s better than sitting on the couch.
Your life’s about to change quite a bit; so why not throw in some good new health habits along with the diapers and bottles!
3. Your health isn’t just about you any more
They may not write it on their birthday wish lists, but every kid wants healthy, happy parents more than anything else. With a brand new person entirely dependent on you, your health is more important than ever. If not for yourself, do it for them. Studies show that parental health is a good predictor of children’s health. This has to do with genetics, but also behavior. So, the healthier you are, the healthier they’ll likely be. Kids have a lot of energy, and many of my patients who are trying to lose weight and get healthier mention keeping up with their kids as a primary motivator. As an expecting parent, you’re in a great position to get ahead of that. Your baby can’t walk yet, but once they learn, you better be ready to chase them down!
4. From day one, your kid is watching you
As I mentioned, there’s a strong proven correlation between parent’s health and children’s health. A big part of this is based on the role that mimicry plays in early childhood learning. Your baby learns how to talk, walk and eat by watching you closely and copying your moves. Monkey see, monkey do. Monkey smile, baby monkey smile. Monkey eat junk food, baby monkey eat junk food, too. Start setting a good example early, and you can avoid a lot of “eat your vegetables” fights down the line.
I cannot stress enough how much influence your behavior has over your child’s. Some new research even suggests that, when it comes to nutrition choices, dad’s behaviors have more influence than mom’s.
5. Healthy habits make for A+ bonding opportunities
Creating that fatherly bond with your new baby and then growing it as they get older is so important and precious. And focusing on your health can help the bond grow stronger and deeper.
Cooking and eating healthy meals together as a family is fun! Active family playtime is too. And it’s always quality bonding material. That half hour you spend dancing to the Moana soundtrack in your living room is a memory you’ll cherish forever.
Do your best to make good habits as fun and adventurous as possible, but also as regular and normal as possible. Having a regular family dinner at a table (with no TV on) has proven psychological and health benefits for all family members, especially the kids. Making healthy eating and exercising fun, no-brainer habits in your child’s life from the beginning sets the stage for how they will choose live the rest of their lives.
Best of luck, dad!
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