Healthy fathers can pave the way for healthy children


June is Men’s Health Month, and it also is the month during which we celebrate Father’s Day, which makes it an optimal time to talk about men’s health and how dads can instill good health care habits in their children.

As many physicians may attest, men as a group are less likely than women to schedule regular medical check-ups. While women generally are taught from an early age to go to the doctor for regular exams, men tend to be more resistant. But if men — fathers in particular — set a good example by visiting their physicians annually, then their sons will learn to follow suit, say UCLA Health urologists Jesse Mills, MD, director of The Men’s Clinic at UCLA, and Rajiv Jayadevan, MD.

“The best thing we can do is lead by example and follow a healthy lifestyle,” Dr. Mills said. That may seem difficult, he notes, because men are taught to sacrifice, “to play through the pain and keep grinding and grinding. Our kids pick up on that attitude,” he said. “We can change that by taking care of ourselves and then bringing our kids into that lifestyle.”

Challenges of staying healthy in fatherhood

A man’s responsibility increases with fatherhood, and that often cuts into time for self-care. If he already was struggling to take care of himself before having children, then there’s a strong possibility that unhealthy habits will be passed down to his children.

For example, “Kids from families in which one or both parents smoke are three-to-four times more likely to become smokers than kids from non-smoking families,” Dr. Mills said. The same is true for households in which parents use alcohol as stress relief. Children, Dr. Mills said, will follow their parents’ lead. If dad is a couch potato, then it should not come as a surprise that the kids will be less enthusiastic about physical activity.

Dr. Jayadevan experienced this dynamic in his own life when he became a father.

“My first two years of fatherhood made it hard for me to find time for exercise and stress reduction,” he said. “I recommend finding ways to include your children in your exercise routine, like using one of those jogging strollers to go for a run with them. It’s great for the family and good for children to see those good habits at an early age. They begin to understand exercise and what it does for the body.”

Dr. Mills and Dr. Jayadevan stressed that including children in all aspects of daily life is a good way for both dad and his children to adopt healthy habits.

“Whether it’s cooking with them so they learn how to prepare healthy meals or going for a walk or bike ride, these are great ways for men to stay healthy and engage their children in fitness,” Dr. Mills said.

“As men, we need to remember to take care of ourselves. That’s how we take care of our families,” Dr. Jayadevan said.

Changing the male mindset

Men taking care of themselves also means regularly seeing their doctor, Dr. Mills said. “The big message behind men’s health is that men need to become more proactive, and we need to lose the mentality of waiting until something is out of kilter before we will see a doctor,” he said.

That need increases as a male reaches adulthood.

“When you’re in your 20s, you should be concerned about your fertility status. You should be concerned about testicular cancer, about blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” Dr. Mills said.

“These are things that we can address if you make that annual visit,” he continued. “Every decade it changes a little bit. By the time you get into your 30s and 40s, we start to become even more concerned about cholesterol levels and hypertension.”

Benefits of annual check-ups for men

Many men go years without seeing a doctor and learning they have health concerns that need to be addressed. By the time they start to experience symptoms, their illness often has progressed and is harder to manage.

Getting an annual check-up should be a priority.

“There are a lot of illnesses that are silent, and you can have them but be asymptomatic,” Dr. Jayadevan said. “Hypertension, high cholesterol and even some forms of renal failure can happen and you might not know about it. Going in for a standard screening and general health check-up on a yearly basis is a good way for us to detect these things.”

Even a seemingly unrelated exam might catch something important. “A 32-year-old man came in for a fertility-status exam because he wanted to be a dad, and he was having trouble initiating the pregnancy,” Dr. Mills said. “After we ran tests, we found that he had testicular cancer. We were able to take him to the operating room, cure him of his cancer and achieve his fertility status so he could be a dad.”

“We can learn a lot about a man’s health just through blood tests, urine tests and checking the blood pressure — all things that physicians can do during a routine annual visit,” Dr. Jayadevan said.

Scheduling your annual check-up

It is never too late to visit a physician, Dr. Mills and Dr. Jayadevan said.

“We can help men become absolutely optimized by making sure their testosterone levels and nutrition levels are where they should be,” Dr. Mills said. “We also want to make sure they are meeting all the men’s health screening metrics.”

Visit The Men’s Clinic at UCLA to learn more about men’s health or to schedule your appointment.