Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website.
When we think about the psychological and physical stressors of raising a child, our sympathies are often directed toward moms. But plenty of dads are all too familiar with the stresses of juggling parenting, work, and daily life.
“Children are often a double-edged sword: They prompt men to strive for more income so that they can care for them properly, but [working more] keeps them away from their family, which can be stressful,” says Marianne Legato, M.D., director of the Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University in New York City.
Being spread so thin can have health consequences, but there are ways to stay healthy in spite of the challenges.
In honor of Father’s Day, here is what you need to know about five common health complaints from fathers—and one quick fix you can try.
"I'm Tired All the Time"
Both moms and dads suffer from exhaustion. Research suggests that dads are just as prone to burnout, disrupted sleep, and drowsiness as moms are.
Symptoms: Daytime sleepiness and lack of concentration are classic indicators, but men may also notice an increased appetite or a lack of motivation to exercise, says Legato. If they have addictive behaviors—drinking or smoking, for example—those may surface too.
One quick fix: You can improve the quality of the hours you do get to sleep if you avoid alcohol before bedtime, says Legato. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it could keep you from staying asleep, she explains. Deep sleep is restorative, and helps to consolidate memory and refresh your ability to think clearly.
"I Have No Time to Exercise"
Parents of young children get less exercise than their childless peers. “Parents with dependent children are clearly more inactive than non-parents,” concluded the authors of a review on the topic, published in the journal Preventive Medicine. But studies also suggest that fathers who work to stay physically active not only reap many benefits from exercise themselves but also tend to have more physically active children.
Symptoms: A burgeoning waistline could be a sign that you’re not getting enough exercise, but you also might notice that everyday activities, such as getting up from a table without supporting yourself, have become harder, says Legato.
One quick fix: Try to find a specific time in your schedule each day to exercise, says Legato. If you have a gym in your office, go at the same time every day. Park an exercise bike in front of the TV in your living room and use it while you watch the nightly news. To start seeing the benefits, you need just 15 to 20 minutes per day of getting your heart rate up.
"I Eat Too Much Junk"
By the time you’ve barreled through back-to-back meetings and picked up the kids from band practice, it can take all of your willpower to resist stopping at the drive-thru on the way home, or eating leftover birthday cake for dinner. But years of bad dietary habits are not without consequences. One study found that for every child that he has, a father’s risk of obesity goes up by 4 percent.
One quick fix: Make it a priority to eat three healthy meals throughout the day, suggests John Santa, M.D., former director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. Many men "tell themselves they’re too busy for breakfast and lunch, and by the time they get home, they’re famished and they binge,” says Santa, who saw many male patients as a primary care doctor in the U.S. Veterans' Affairs (VA) system. A healthy diet—one heavy in colorful fruits and vegetables and light in sugars, saturated fats, and simple carbs—is linked to a range of health benefits, including the reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain types of cancer.
"I'm Constantly Stressed Out"
Stress can cause all sorts of problems in the body, including muscle tension, high blood pressure, hormonal imbalances, heartburn, digestive and reproductive issues, and susceptibility to sickness. And according to a 2010 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), 73 percent of parents say that family responsibilities are a significant source of their stress. Some stress is good, says Legato, and can help you stop procrastinating at work, for example. But when these physical manifestations of it begin to appear it needs to be addressed.
Symptoms: A change in appetite, weight, or sleep are all signs that you might be stressed, says Legato, as are feelings of sadness or anxiety.
One quick fix: Physical exercise is by far the most important way to de-stress, says Legato, because it releases feel-good endorphins, makes you more flexible, and oxygenates your tissues. For de-stressing, regular, measured, and consistent exercise—rather than doing it in fits and starts—is best.
"I Feel Unusually Down"
Women are more likely to suffer from depression, but the condition can be particularly trying for men—especially busy fathers—since they tend to approach it differently. “Men are taught to cope and not complain,” says Legato, “so depression turns inward and can really destroy their health.” Depression lowers the body’s defenses against illness and promotes the release of stress hormones that can make you more vulnerable to insulin resistance and weight gain.
Symptoms: Men experiencing depression may appear angry or aggressive rather than sad, according to the National Institutes of Health. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to ease their discomfort, or may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, a racing heart, tightened chest, digestive issues, or changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
One quick fix: Admit that you’re down, says Legato, and then make an appointment with a mental health professional so you can consider trying cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy that is often covered by insurance.
Copyright © 2006-2017 Consumer Reports, Inc.