Put down the SkyMall magazine. Your dad does not need elastic lounge pants camouflaged as jeans or a full-body sleeping cocoon to shield him from bed bugs when he's traveling. These things will only amp up his nerd factor. And let's face it, most of our dads are already really successful in that department. Here's an idea: How about a gift to help your dad not need a little more give in his pants or live in fear of the world? How about something—wait for it—healthy!
Among the keys to a good life are relaxation, eating enough fruits and vegetables, and staying physically active. With that in mind, we suggest you strengthen that heart of his you love so much with some tips to help him have the life he deserves.
1. Make him breathe. It's hard to overstate the toll that stress takes on a human being. Among the health hazards linked to stress are sleep problems, drug or alcohol abuse, overeating, undereating, depression, lack of motivation or focus, high blood pressure, and even heart attacks. Sounds like a party, huh? Furthermore, when compared with women, men make stress management a lower priority, according to the latest American Psychological Association's survey "Stress in America." While men tend to downplay the role of stress in their lives, they suffer higher rates of those conditions made worse by stress like high blood pressure and heart disease.
[See: Take Action for Heart Health]
Stress comes with life, and there's no way around that. But there are proven techniques to quiet the clamor. Exercise eases tension by triggering the release of endorphins—your brain's happy chemicals. Certain Eastern practices, like yoga and tai chi, are especially calming. Their mind-body approach to wellness offers physical benefits plus the goal of equanimity. Consider enrolling your dad in yoga or tai chi classes to help him enjoy and sustain a more relaxed state of being. Or go straight for "serenity now" with a course in meditation or recordings on relaxation techniques.
2. Make him sing (even if it's to himself). Ever love a melody so much it gives you chills? That means your brain is pumping out dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasurable feelings—the kind you get from, say, food or sex, according to a recent study by researchers at McGill University. The more you love the music, the more dopamine you release. We're going to go out on a limb here and guess that a CD or two of your dad's favorite music will make his commute a whole lot happier.
3. Make him laugh. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have found that laughter loosens the lining of blood vessels, improving circulation. A 2005 study showed that blood flow increased an average of 22 percent in people who watched a clip from a funny movie, while blood flow decreased by 35 percent in those who watched a stressful movie scene.
Apparently there's truth to the saying that laughter's the best medicine. It's also the shortest distance between two people, said the Danish comedian Victor Borge. Boost both your bond and his health with a laughter-inducing gift for Father's Day. Snag tickets for a comedy show. Consider getting him Mel Brooks' The 2000 Year Old Man or Blazing Saddles (if your dad is big on bathroom humor, he'll go crazy for the campfire scene). Other good bets include movies starring Will Ferrell, particularly Old School and Anchorman, along with flicks by the Zucker brothers like Airplane! Don't forget the following cult favorites: A Fish Called Wanda, Animal House, Caddyshack, Coming to America, Monty Python, National Lampoon's Vacation, and early recordings of Saturday Night Live.
Finally, don't all dads love puns? There's got to be a pun-filled joke book he'll love.
4. Make him breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day, fueling your dad with energy and helping him manage his weight. Make it healthy by incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables and swapping the white bread for whole grain. If he's game for a Mexican dish, a mixture of beans, eggs, avocado, cilantro, and salsa will prove tasty and nourishing. Throw in a whole-grain tortilla and a heaping bowl of fruit.
Enhance the gift of healthy eating by presenting your pop with a starter gardening kit for his own homegrown herbs and vegetables. Gardening is also relaxing. (Have you ever seen someone angrily tending to their herbs?) If he doesn't want to raise anything else—he already did that with you—buy him a share in a community supported agriculture (CSA) project. These are local farms that distribute fresh, seasonal produce to members. Alternatively, buy your dad a fruit-of-the-month gift to ensure that a steady supply of healthy snacks stands between him and his stash of junk food.
5. Make him move."Few factors contribute as much to successful aging as having a physically active lifestyle," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
If your dad seems to have become one with the recliner, do all you can to get him moving. And don't forget strength training. "While aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, or swimming has many excellent health benefits—it maintains the heart and lungs and increases cardiovascular fitness and endurance—it does not make your muscles strong," states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends two and a half hours of physical activity each week. "Studies have shown that lifting weights two or three times a week increases strength by building muscle mass and bone density." Strength training can also help relieve arthritis pain, improve sleep, boost mood, improve cardiac health, and reduce the risk of falls.
But even walking for 15 to 20 minutes each day lowers the risk of diabetes or dying from a heart attack or stroke, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
Give your dad a set of sessions with a personal trainer to teach him the right way to pump iron. Find him a workout or walking buddy to make sure he gets moving. Even better, join him yourself for a Father's Day hike. Your companionship is likely the best present you can give. And while you're at it, tell a few jokes along the way.