Most men have enough ties, socks, drills, and bathrobes so shopping for a Father’s Day gift may be challenging. Why not think about a real gift, a present that boosts heart health and promotes overall well-being? Below are a few ideas for dads of all ages, and I hope you have time to add them to your list for next week’s celebration.
1. Men 20-30 years old
Many men in their 20s are working on starting a family, and there's a growing awareness that personal care items used every day can take a toll on health. As just one example, a study released last month identified for the first time a connection between chemicals found in many bathroom items, and sexual health issues.
These “endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” or EDCs, directly impair sperm function and affect fertility, and are quite common. Triclosan, for example, is an antibacterial agent that the study identified as impacting sperm function. Other EDCs, like phthalates, parabens, and sulfates, are associated with serious health issues. Aluminum, which is used in many deodorants, is concerning because of its potential impact on future brain function.
With a little effort you can get together a package of toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, hair products, soaps, facial lotions and sunscreens marked free of the above additives. The labels and packaging might be new for most men, and may even cost a few dollars extra, but health is priceless. A reliable resource to search for men's health products free of EDCs can be found at www.ewg.org.
2. Men 30-40 years old
In this age range, careers, raising children, relationships, and finances can be quite a juggling act. Maintaining balance without the ill effects of chronic stress can be quite a challenge. Hours may be spent working out, but usually weights and cardio predominate. Men are underrepresented at group fitness classes like yoga, meditation, Pilates, barre and tai chi, despite proven health benefits of many of these practices.
How about getting a Father’s Day package to try a variety of these activities? Online programs can also be an option if your budget is tight. Spending time as a family learning new mind-body practices can be very rewarding, and the ability to manage stress through mind and breath work could be the best gift Dad has ever received.
3. Men 40-50 years old
Around this age, heart disease starts to manifest in some men, along with its twin disease, erectile dysfunction. Hopefully some routine lab work has been done, but "knowing his numbers" will be crucial in determining any dad's health over the next few decades.
Simple measures like weight, waist, waist to hip ratio, fasting glucose, and blood pressure are important. With heart disease remaining the number one cause of death and disability in men this age, I favor advanced lab testing. Panels by Health Diagnostic Labs, Spectracell, Liposcience, and Cleveland Heart Labs may include cholesterol LDL particle number and size, measurements of inflammation, alternative heart markers like homocysteine and lipoprotein a, thyroid panels, vitamin D and omega-3 levels, and genetics of methylation and clotting.
Comprehensive lab panels give an in-depth view of health status and can be used to develop personalized lifestyle recommendations for optimal health. They are often completely covered by insurance plans.
4. Men 50-60 years old
Without question the most valuable gift you can give a man who is free of known heart disease is a certificate to go for a coronary calcium CT scan. This test usually takes less than minutes, involves no IV or dye, and requires only holding the breath for a moment. There is a dose of radiation whose impact can be reduced by eating or taking antioxidant-rich foods or supplements an hour or so ahead of the scan.
This is the only screening test that permits visualization of the heart arteries, which are never seen on any ECG, echocardiogram, or stress test. A score is calculated, and a zero score is ideal. I routinely see people who feel great but have scores of 400, 800, or higher, indicating silent, advanced heart artery disease. A few men have ended up failing stress tests, having heart angiograms, and requiring treatments with stents or bypass. The vast majority, however, just need an advanced workup and a prevention-reversal program of diet, stress management, supplements, infrared sauna, and exercise.
Available at most hospitals, and rarely covered by insurance, this CT scan may cost $75-250 out of pocket. If Dad has known heart disease, including a prior heart attack or stent, it is NOT needed.
5. Men 60 years and up
After decades of living in a world polluted with 80,000-plus chemicals in our homes, air, water, food and jobs, a burden of toxic organic pollutants and heavy metals has developed in most men. These toxins have been linked to diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancer, and are stored in fatty tissue and bones. Unfortunately, they're easier to get in than out, and they interfere with many essential health systems.
All detoxification programs involve avoiding these chemicals, and aiding their removal. A special Father’s Day gift would be researching and purchasing an infrared sauna. Many units are made of wood, and you want to avoid ones built with glues and wood stains that may actually expose users to more chemicals. These often cost $2,000-4,000, but they last for decades. Portable units made with reflective materials that cost under $1,000 and are quite comfortable are also available. A two-person unit can offer a great way to spend time together, and is a good location to practice meditation.
Billy Graham said, “Being a good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed, and one of the most valuable assets in our society,” and I agree. A gift to promote Dad’s health is the greatest thank you. Happy Father’s Day to all.