No one dreads buying gifts for Mother’s Day. Between the ubiquitous flowers, breakfasts in bed and spa days, just about everyone has managed to figure out how to celebrate our moms year after year. But what to get dad for Father’s Day? Yet another tie to be stashed in the back of his closet? An electronic gadget that he won’t use? A barbecue tool that will collect dust in the garage?
This year, on Sunday, June 19, 2011, give your dad the best Father’s Day gift of all – the gift of health! Help your Dad live longer and healthier by giving him one or more of the following “gifts.” Because when it comes to healthy habits, men fall far short of these goals. Compared with women, men are less likely to visit doctors and less likely to participate in preventive care strategies. So help your dad with these five essentials. He’ll love you even more for it.
Gift #1: Help Your Dad Establish A Strong Relationship With A Primary Care Physician.
One of the most important things a man can do is talk with his doctor. Does your dad like his physician? Does your dad’s doctor have his complete health history? A list of all your dad’s medications and allergies? Results of key tests?
In today’s world of medical specialties and subspecialties, maintaining a strong relationship with a single primary care physician is more important than ever. A good primary care physician should serve as the medical team quarterback and know what every other member of that team is up to. When was your dad’s cholesterol last checked? Did his dermatologist do a full skin exam when he went in to have that mole removed? What did his sports medicine doctor find when examining his tennis elbow?
A good primary care physician should take the lead, making sure that your dad’s health is on track. And if your dad’s doctor isn’t on board with taking on this role, consider finding another one.
Gift #2: Collect Your Father’s Medical Records For Him.
Unless your dad belongs to an HMO, his medical records are likely to be spread out among the many different specialists that he’s seen over the years. Even his primary care physician may not have your dad’s cardiologist’s notes or his rheumatologist’s impression of his most recent gout attack. You can solve this problem for your father. All he has to do is authorize you to collect his records. It’s easy. Here’s how:
Ask your dad to complete a standard release form (which you can find at http://www.caring.com/forms/hipaa-release-form/free-hipaa-release-form.pdf) and provide you with a list of his physicians’ names and contact information to get the process started. You can contact these physicians and request them to send you his records. They are required by law to comply.
You can also scan his medical records and put them in an electronic file and send them to his primary care physician as well as his other physicians. And, if your dad travels out of the country, make sure he takes a digital copy of his records and full contact information for his primary care physician.
At a minimum, he also should have a small laminated card in his wallet that lists all of his medications, diagnoses and allergies. In case of emergency, having his full medical history on a single USB drive as well as access to the one physician who knows him best can help ensure that he receives appropriate care. You should update his medical records quarterly by contacting all of his treating physicians. Collecting his medical records may be time-consuming, but it is absolutely worth the effort.
Gift #3: Help Dad Lead A Healthy Lifestyle.
How does your dad’s lifestyle measure up? You can help him out in four key health areas that will make a huge difference in his life: diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption.
For starters, research studies demonstrate that eating a proper diet, maintaining a reasonable weight and getting regular exercise will do more for one’s health than all the medications and other medical interventions combined. The opposite of this— eating unhealthy foods, lack of physical activity, excess weight gain—have been linked to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and osteoarthritis, which, in turn, increase the risk of myriad long-term health consequences. In addition, if your dad smokes or uses alcohol to excess, why not use Father’s Day as an opportunity to address those issues, as there is nothing more important you can do to help him live longer.
Diet. Help your dad follow these recommendations to maintain a healthy weight. Find ways to eat more nutrient-dense foods that are low in fat and sodium. Avoid added sugars, refined grains and processed foods, and enjoy a wide variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds. Many studies show significant benefits from reductions in the consumption of animal proteins and increases in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Treat your dad to a consultation with a certified nutritionist, and consider filling his refrigerator with fresh fruits and vegetables every week, or go with him to a cooking class focused on healthy cuisine. You know him best and can find ways to help him improve his diet.
Exercise. When it comes to his physical activity, most experts recommend an average of at least 30 minutes a day. Even some activity is better than none, but more activity is even better. If your dad hasn’t exercised in a long time, he should consult his physician to ensure that it is safe and for guidance on how to begin. How about signing him up for a membership in a local gym? (Toss in a few hours with a trainer for an added bonus.) Take him to buy new sneakers or just commit to going for a walk every Sunday for an hour.
Smoking. Quitting smoking is the single most important lifestyle change that your dad can do to improve his health. Nearly 25 percent of adult men regularly smoke cigarettes and 9 percent smoke cigars despite the repeated messages disseminated by every major health organization in the world about the health risks associated with smoking. If your dad smokes, there are many approaches to stopping smoking, including patches, gums and treatment programs. Find the one you think he would be most likely to embrace and give it to him. It would be hard to imagine a more important gift. For more info, see the Surgeon General’s Tobacco Cessation page located at www.surgeongeneral.gov/tobacco.
Alcohol. Excessive alcohol use is another leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the United States. In 2005 alone, there were more than 1.6 million hospitalizations and more than 4 million emergency room visits for alcohol-related conditions. Men have nearly 5 times as many “binge drinking” episodes per year than women, which is defined as having 5 or more drinks on a single occasion, and are more likely than women to take other risks when inebriated, such as driving fast or driving without a safety belt, further increasing their risk of injury or death.
And, by the way, a “drink” is probably smaller than you think. A standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of pure alcohol, which translates into 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, and just 1.5 ounces, or one shot, of liquor, such as gin, rum, vodka or whiskey.
If your dad drinks too much, you and your family should develop a plan to help him cut down or stop drinking. Perhaps others in the family should change the culture by also cutting out alcohol, or if the problem is more serious, consider professional help. But, anything you do to bring about improvement will have profound effects on his health.
Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake might be two of hardest things to do, but they’re two of the most important ways to improve your dad’s health.
Gift #4: Help Him Know His Numbers.
Most men can recite a long list of stats about their favorite athletes or sports—how many runs batted in, how many yards rushed per game and how many points, assists and rebounds per game. But there are three essential numbers every man should know: blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index. Here’s why:
- Blood pressure: the higher the blood pressure, the greater the risk for damage to the heart and blood vessels. According to the American Heart Association, an adult’s blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mmHg; regular readings over 140/90 mmHg usually signal a need for medication.
- Cholesterol is a waxy substance produced by the body and absorbed from food. LDL, the so-called “bad” cholesterol (think of the “L” as standing for lousy) can build up in the walls of blood vessels, narrowing the vessels and enabling small blood clots to get stuck, resulting in stroke or heart attack. By contrast, HDL, the “good” cholesterol, helps clear out LDL. According to the American Heart Association, an adult’s total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL, LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL, and HDL should be greater than 50 mg/dL.
- Body mass index is a measure of body fat based on height and weight and a fairly good gauge of the risk for diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, normal BMI is between 18.5 and 25, overweight is between 25 and 29.9 and obese is greater than or equal to 30. Online calculators, such as the one at www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/ are a great, quick way to check BMI.
Knowing HIS numbers is the most important way he can stay on a healthier track. You can help him.
Gift #5: Help Him Stay Up To Date With Proven Prevention Strategies And Early Detection.
Two key causes of death, cancer and heart disease, account for half of all deaths in the United States. Following these proven prevention strategies and early detection testing programs can make an enormous difference in your father’s quality of life, outcome and longevity.
We know a great deal about how to prevent heart disease: lower blood pressure, lower total and LDL cholesterol, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and quit smoking. Preventing cancer is a bit more complicated. Certain products and agents (tobacco and ultraviolet light from tanning beds, to name just two) are known carcinogens and should be avoided. In most cases, however, the underlying cause of the cancer is unknown. Therefore, the best approach is early detection through cancer screening tests.
Typically, if a cancer is found earlier, there are more treatment options with better results and fewer side effects. The American Cancer Society (ACS) cancer screening recommendations for adult men are:
- Colorectal cancer: beginning at age 50, flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, colonoscopy every 10 years. Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years to look for precancerous polyps and cancer, and/or fecal blood test or immunochemical test yearly to look for cancer.
- Prostate cancer: beginning at age 50, consider a PSA blood test and a digital rectal exam. ACS recommends that men discuss the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening before undergoing testing.
- Other cancers: beginning at age 20, yearly physical exams for testicular, thyroid and skin cancer as part of a regular check-up.
Keep in mind that these guidelines only apply to people who are considered at average risk for each type of cancer. If your dad is at above-average risk because of personal or family history or other factors, he should talk with his doctor about appropriate cancer screening strategies.
The best part of these Father’s Day gifts? Each one is a gift that keeps on giving. Private Health is here to help you achieve these goals. Happy Father’s Day!
Leslie Michelson is the CEO of Private Health Management, the definitive source for priority access to the very finest physicians and surgeons in the world. Its physician-led Personal Care Teams, in concert with an expert advisory board of world-class specialists, develop state-of-the-art treatment plans for patients and coordinate all medical and logistical aspects of their care, 24/7 without limitation. Services include Immediate Need offering is designed for people who have a significant medical challenge; the Membership Program is for individuals and families who are generally well and want to stay that way; the Clinical Response Service for companies that recognize that their employees’ health is vitally important to their success; and Comprehensive Care offering includes all-encompassing coordination and oversight of all health care needs. For additional information go to www.privatehealth.com.