In a story in this week’s issue of TIME (available to subscribers here), Jeffrey Kluger, himself an older dad, explores the latest science on how a father’s age affects the health of his children. So we took the opportunity to gather tips from family and fitness experts to help older dads navigate fatherhood in ways that capitalize on their strengths and overcome their disadvantages. Here’s what they advise:
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Avoid comparing yourself to other (younger) parents: Cut down on how often you dwell on your problems and compare yourself to others — including younger dads, recommends Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness. Lyubomirsky recently had a baby with her 56-year-old husband. Instead of lingering on your faults and disadvantages, remind yourself of the advice and security you can provide your child as an older man.
Count your blessings and practice gratitude: Express gratitude for what you have, either privately through meditation or keeping a journal, or more publicly with a close companion. Consider how grateful you are for the help of your spouse, or for the ability to have a baby at a late stage in life while your friends are dealing with teenagers. That’s certainly been our experience,” says Lyubomirsky.
Lose yourself (in something you enjoy): Have more experiences at home and work that indulge your interests, and are challenging and absorbing, says Lyubomirsky. This keeps your mind sharp and is a great way to learn new skills along with your child.
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Develop strategies for coping: Identify ways to endure stress, hardship, or trauma. Be willing to learn from hardships — both physical and emotional — that may come with age.
Stay physically active: “I just turned 40 and have three kiddos,” says Sincere Hogan, owner of New Warrior Training Systems, based in Houston, Texas. “My kids love that when I visit school, instead of sitting around with most parents, I’m on the monkey bars with the kids. It’s one of the reasons I got into this business. I never want to be the dad sitting on the side, feeling run down.”
Here are some of Hogan’s tips for keeping your body young:
- Use kettlebells: “They’re not as taxing on the body as dumbbells and barbells. The movements won’t hurt your joints as much,” says Hogan. As people get older, they deal with more aches, pains and joint issues. Hogan says using kettlebells can increase elasticity and strengthen shoulder stability. “They’re a training tool that can help improve your anaerobic capacity as well as your aerobic capacity at the exact same time. While you’re building muscle, you’re also burning fat,” he says.
- Spend time weight lifting: “Nothing can beat good old fashioned body weight training,” says Hogan. “If you do it in circuits, you can go at your own pace and build up power and strength at the same time.” Improving muscle and bone density is crucial as you age. “When you’re older, your bones start deteriorating a little more, calcium is depleting and you may have arthritis. That’s why you want to build stronger bones to reduce accidents from falls,” says Hogan.
- Practice yoga: All levels of yoga are ideal for relieving aches and increasing flexibility. “As we get older we have to reduce our stress, and yoga is a great way to concentrate on breathing and really be in the moment,” says Hogan. Yoga is also a popular recovery workout to complement other exercises.
“With these three [exercises], you have a trifecta for longevity,” says Hogan. “I want men to know that you are never to too old. You can feel even younger and stronger than ever.”
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Embrace a healthy lifestyle: “Older parents need to give their children the gift of time,” says Dr. Sarah Stanley, founder of The Learning Community, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free and healthy parenting resources for families. “Children want to have parents involved in their lives. Whether it’s sharing a book or helping with a science project, watching them graduate from high school or college, or celebrating with them when they launch a career, get married or start a family.”
The way to a healthy lifestyle is a familiar one — and includes eating a nutritious diet. One way to get started, with your children — create a daily healthy eating ritual. “Sit down and share your day while eating a piece of fruit together,” she says. Cooking together as a family is another way to stay connected and teach your kids about eating right.
Develop emotional bonds with your children: Getting connected with your children doesn’t only strengthen their emotional development, but can help fathers as well. According to Fred Van Deusen, Senior Research Associate at the Boston College Center for Work & Family, research shows men’s emotional involvement with their children acts as a buffer against work-related stresses.
Even if you’re the breadwinner in your family, understand that you have a role as caregiver too. Research shows [PDF] fathers over 40 are more likely to view their responsibilities as fathers in the traditional breadwinner sense, than fathers under 40. The more men engage in activities with their children, the more satisfied they are with their lives.
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Don’t assume you can’t keep up because you are older: Kids can keep you young when it comes to your health, says Van Deusen. In a review, researchers found that dads aged 41 to 64 reported better health status than their childless peers. Only 16.5% reported their health was fair or poor compared to 22.7% of non-dads in the same age group.
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