Dads gets a bad rap when it comes to health. Just take a look at the skimpy selection of options for a Father's Day card. Those cards would have you believe every dad is a beer-guzzling, burger-eating couch potato with digestive issues who doesn't exercise except for the occasional game of golf.
Even if Dad didn't encourage you to pick up a tennis racket, there's a lot to learn from him and his experiences with health. And one of the most important ways to get to those answers is to know and understand your family's medical history.
By asking him the questions below, you can learn information that can empower your own decisions about health, whether that's to adopt a more nutritious diet, commit to getting your recommended 150 minutes of physical activity a week, to keep stress at bay or get enough sleep. Taking such preventive measures, after all, "is by far a more effective way of managing your life than waiting for catastrophe," says Alan White, Ph.D., men's health professor and researcher at the Centre for Men's Health at Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK.
Once catastrophe strikes, dads risk leaving their children without one of their best role models, says Rani G. Whitfield, M.D., a board certified family physician and spokesperson for the American Heart Association. "To take care of your family, you've got to take care of yourself!" he says.
To help dad take care of himself -- and to take better care of you, considering asking him the following questions.
How's Your Heart?
Heart disease is still the number one killer in the U.S. You probably already know if dad has undergone any major cardiac events in his lifetime, but you might not know the family history of high cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes, says White. If your father has any of these risk factors for heart disease, you too could experience them as you age, he says. Also ask when dad was told he had heart disease. If he says before the age of 55, your risk increases in turn, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
While you can't negate your risk, there are heart-healthy habits you can adopt to keep your own ticker in tip-top shape. "Speaking to your dad about health problems may indicate you might get something yourself, but it doesn't necessarily," explains White. "It's not inevitable, you can do something about it." Look to add more heart-healthy foods to your diet, aim for those two and a half hours aerobic exercise a week and keep stress to a minimum.
Is There A History Of Mental Illness In Our Family?
Even your closest family members may not feel comfortable speaking openly about mental health. The climate is certainly changing, but stigma persists, and might have kept dad or grandpa from honestly explaining a number of conditions that seem to run in families, like bipolar disorder or depression. Speaking up about such issues may have been considered a sign of weakness in the past, says Whitfield.
While it certainly doesn't mean you're bound to struggle, White explains, arming yourself with the knowledge of your family's emotional history will help you know to get help as soon as possible, should symptoms arise.
Have You Ever Had Problems With Alcohol?
Of course, the experts say, there are a great number of risks for substance abuse, including environmental factors, says Whitfield, but there seems to be something genetic at work, too. Family studies have shown that children of alcoholics have two to four times a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic themselves than children of nonalcoholics. While more research is still needed, there seems to be a stronger hereditary link among males, meaning that male children might be slightly more at risk of developing problems with alcohol if a parent has struggled.
Adding fuel to the fire is research that suggests a stronger link between parents and children of the same gender. If you're male and your dad has an addiction problem (or you're female and your mom does), you may have a more cautionary tale to heed. However, much more alcoholism research has been conducted among males to begin with, according to a 2003 review of the research by the National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism.
Any Cancer History I Should Know About?
Of course it's not inevitable, but there are a number of cancers that seem to have some hereditary risk between fathers and sons. Prostate cancer is generally considered to have a genetic component, especially if it was early-onset, says White. As many as 10 percent of prostate cancer cases are thought to be due to inherited risk factors, according to the National Cancer Institute. Testicular cancer and colorectal cancer may also carry some inherited risks, says Whitfield.
The good news is that knowing your risk may help you catch the disease early. Men are more likely to be more proactive about screening if they know their family's medical history calls for it, according to the NCI.
When Was The Last Time You Saw A Doctor?
Asking dad about his next appointment won't do much for your own health, but it can ensure you have many more Fathers' Days together. Men are less likely to seek care for themselves. In fact, they are as much as 25 percent less likely to visit a doctor than women, CNN reported. Whether it's because they don't like doctors or are nervous to find out something is really wrong, says Whitfield, one thing's for sure: by the time delayers do make it into the office, diseases can be at later stages than is ideal for a first detection: "I always say to the men who don't go to the doctor on a regular basis, 'Do you want a tuneup or an overhaul?'"
Let us know in the comments: Have you had these discussions or other health talks with your father? How has it helped your health?