Rocking the Dad Bod in a Healthy Way

Man spending time with two children, instead of working out to avoid a dad bod

When you’re young and not much is tying you down, it’s much easier to make time for the gym. Plus, your metabolism helps take care of those late-night food splurges. But, eventually the on-the-go lifestyle of college is in the past and softball, volleyball and kickball teams give ways to toddlers, diapers and early bedtimes.

Enter – the dad bod.

Quentin Stenger, PA-C, UnityPoint Health, explains the main causes of the dad bod, why it’s not always a bad thing and four pieces of advice so you can keep up with the kids, no matter what your age.

What is the Dad Bod?

In their teens and 20s, men are usually more physically active, but after those first two decades, exercise habits slow down. Stenger says the slowdown usually aligns with the start of a family. The characteristic most often identified with the dad bod is fat deposits around the abdomen.

“Men tend to gain weight from their 30s until they are 55,” Stenger says. “Research shows most men between 55 and 65 tend to have a stable weight. After 65, weight generally trends slightly downward due to loss of muscle mass.”

Stenger says three other main causes lead to the dad bod:

  • Slowing metabolism
  • Decline of muscle mass
  • Poor eating habits

How is the Dad Bod Helpful?

“I believe it gives men a way to connect. There is a social phenomenon of having to give everything a hashtag right now. One word, like #dadbod, can convey multiple levels of frustration and quickly describe a man’s struggles,” Stenger says.

But, Stenger says if you acknowledge you have a dad bod, that’s also good for your future.

“One of the good things about realizing you have a dad bod is admitting your body habits are not ideal for long-term health. When men have families, they tend to shift their priorities to long-term thinking. Some men will realize that unless they change their body shape, they might have a difficult time enjoying their child’s activities, retirement, or even grandchildren,” Stenger says.

Stenger says it’s a very decent and loving thing to give up personal time you may have spent on exercise to instead spend it with your family. But, at some point, there is a cost.

When Does the Dad Bod Go Too Far?

Stenger says the two biggest risks associated with the dad bod, or an increased body mass index (BMI), are heart disease and diabetes.

“Increased abdominal weight is a sign of type 2 diabetes. That extra fat can also penetrate into the liver and cause a fatty liver disease, which can inhibit its function,” Stenger says.

If you have a dad bod, Stenger just recommends that you talk to your doctor. A few minor changes can go a long way.

What Do Providers Recommend?

Your doctor will consider your lifestyle, medications and health history before making recommendations. However, Stenger says there are four things he often suggests.

  • Eat smaller portions. Instead of eating two or three large meals, try to break it up into four meals a day, with smaller quantities. Another option is to talk to a dietitian for support.
  • Turn off the television. The sedentary activity that most accurately predicts developing an unhealthy weight is TV watching. Turn off the TV, or at least minimize your consumption. That includes watching movies or shows on your smartphone.
  • Avoid over-the-counter supplements. Don’t try to treat your dad bod with supplements. Supplements are not evaluated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and long-term side effects. Stenger says he’s seen liver damage from over-the-counter supplements, especially testosterone or “fat burners.”
  • Make exercise a family event. You should be getting at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least three times a week. If you struggle to get away, combine gym time and family time, and enjoy the best of both worlds.

“I take my son to my gym’s ‘kid’s gym’ program to show him that dad exercises and tries to keep in shape as best he can. If your gym has child services, use them. If they don’t, tell the child where you are going and what you will be doing, like running or lifting weights. You can use modeling even at a young age. My two-year-old already wants to wear my headband, because it’s part of the equipment I work out with. I got him a child’s size, and he loves it and wants to exercise with me,” Stenger says.

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