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Ask Deborah: Men's Health
June 15, 2012

QUESTION: I have been struggling with trying to help my husband start an exercise program he can do and continue doing. He knows he needs to but he is trying to get his business off the ground, but I know he would feel a lot better about himself and his work if he could get some regular movement. Is there anything I can do? Please, I am worried he is headed towards diabetes, heart disease, a heart attack, whatever, and our family needs him!

ANSWER: It is very difficult to help someone else exercise – that motivation (and dedication to setting aside the time) has to come from within. But here are some ideas that might help contribute to your husband’s long-term health.

And Happy Father’s Day to all dads out there, including my dad, Bernie Krebs, in Alberta – over 80 years young! Dad loved sports as a kid – he ran track and played baseball, and rode a bike for many decades. He’s still an avid bowler. I hope he has many more good years ahead of him, and I hope your dear husband does, too.

You are right, exercise helps to maintain good health over the years. Recently, Dr. Lester Breslow, who had served for decades in public health, including several years as Dean of the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, died at age 97, after living a long, healthy life. (source)

In a study of 6,928 people in Alameda County, California that he had followed over 20 years, Dr. Breslow found that a 45-year old man who followed at least six of seven healthy habits had a life expectancy of 11 years longer than someone who followed three or fewer. These were his recommendations: do not smoke, drink in moderation, sleep 7-8 hours per night, exercise at least moderately, eat regular meals, maintain a healthy weight, and eat breakfast.

Most of these are pretty easy to do, and the 5-2-1-0 initiative is a great way to work on the harder parts. This program has been rolled out in several states - here is New Hampshire’s.

The 5 stands for eat five fruits and vegetables a day. Easy to do if you start with a banana on your cereal, put some tomato slices on your burger at lunch, eat an apple for a snack, and have a veggie and a serving of fruit with the rest of your dinner.

The 2 stands for no more than 2 hours of screen time per day. Hard to do in some jobs, but it’s a reminder to limit TV at night and keep moving (or reading).

The 1 stands for getting an hour of exercise a day. Here’s where kids can really help. Enlist their enthusiasm to plan activities that the family can do together for exercise. Here are a number of suggestions:

  • Go biking or skating
  • Walk the dog or go for a hike
  • Play catch or shoot some hoops
  • Throw a Frisbee or play badminton
  • Learn tennis or golf together
  • Play Wii Fit
  • Go swimming at the YMCA
  • Do some yard work or wash the car together
  • Turn up the music and clean the house together

By the way, you might have so much fun that you decide to go on an active vacation together – camping and backpacking, hiking in the mountains, exploring on foot some interesting neighborhoods in historic cities, for example. Here are some ideas for active vacations from KidsHealth, a website of Nemours Children’s Health System.

The 0 is for “no sugary drinks.” Challenge yourselves to find healthy drinks with no sugar, and drink more water.

One of the things that Dr. Breslow wrote, in a report to President Harry Truman in 1952, was that people make their own health choices, but “exercise them mainly under social influences.” So, use the social influence of your family (and your faith community) to get everyone in the family involved in health and wellness. You might encourage your congregation to try out a program like “Get My People Going” which will be coming out from the Church Health Center in a new format in a few months.

P.S. Don’t forget to remind your husband to schedule his needed dental and physical checkups and screenings when you schedule checkups for the rest of the family. The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recommends these screenings for men. And if you want more information about men’s health, here is the Men’s Health section at the CDC.

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