Getting fit and staying healthy: 8 survival tips for new dads
Dr Dan Mirmilstein shares some words of wisdom for dads
If you’re like me and new to fatherhood, you’ll know that it is a life-changing journey. One of joy, warmth, endless love and laughter, but also sleepless nights, upended schedules and long days.
We can feel torn between the ever-changing needs of the baby, the challenges of supporting our partners and our own self-care. Balancing our time and energy is crucial because it’s an endurance race, not a sprint, and maintaining our health and fitness will allow us to sustainably serve others.
I’ve spoken to a number of new dads about their health and fitness routines, as well as how they’ve changed since becoming a father, and have compiled eight tips and words of wisdom.
1. Squeeze it in
Even if you only have 10 or 20 minutes spare, there are plenty of online programs that you can do to work up a sweat. If you get the body moving, even for a small amount of time, you’ll feel great and stimulate your metabolism.
Related: The 10-minute do-anywhere workout
2. Do the exercise you love
This one seems obvious, but to begin with, just do the exercise you love – be it yoga, cycling, walking, swimming or running. You want to prioritise exercise that is comfortable and stress-free.
Get the body moving, even for a small time; you’ll feel great and stimulate your metabolism
3. Consistency over intensity
Rather than smashing it out at the gym once a week, it’s actually better to have a consistent exercise routine that involves moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. It can be as simple as getting off a stop early and walking the rest of the way to work, or cycling to the shops.
4. BYO baby
If you’re unable to hit the gym or pool because you’re looking after the baby, get outdoors and bring them along! Go for a long walk and stop in the park for a circuit session. This way, you can exercise while your child takes in some fresh air or (if you’re lucky) a nap.
5. Band together
Start an exercise group with others in your parent’s group. This helps to hold you accountable, but also creates a supportive environment with others in the same boat.
6. Avoid snacking
When you’re exhausted, it’s easy to reach for a quick snack. However, snacks are generally much higher in caloric value and lower in nutritional value than regular meals. Try to avoid having things like biscuits, crackers and muffins in your pantry so you’re not tempted. Instead, stock up on nuts and seeds, fruit and nourishing dips (like Tzatziki and hummus) with vegetables. These are all nutrient-dense snacks that are a great option for children and adults alike.
7. Keep up good habits
Children are impressionable, so it is important to model good eating behaviours as a dad. Make sure you’re eating lots of vegetables, fruit, protein and wholegrains.
If you want your child to be eating well when you introduce solids, know that family habits will greatly predict their diet. In time, it’s great to include them in the process of growing (consider planting a herb garden), purchasing and preparing the food. For more ideas check out this article: 5 ways to make your kids fall in love with healthy food.
8. Get support
Let’s not forget the emotional and psychological side of becoming a dad. It can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions from stressed, confused and fatigued to elated, connected and proud. Having a particularly tough time happens to a lot of us. One in seven new fathers experience high levels of psychological distress and as many as one in ten experience depression or anxiety.
Exercise and nutrition are keystones of good mental health, alongside knowing when to seek further support. Seeing a psychologist or therapist can mean practising vulnerability, working through our emotions in a healthy way and developing good coping strategies. A good starting point is to contact your GP. Also you can check out Dadvice for a great webinar series on the changes of fatherhood and take the dad stress test to see where you’re at.
Fatherhood is an incredibly rich and thoroughly immersive experience. We get a genuine sense of meaning and purpose whilst confronting our limitations in often-unexpected ways. Being present for and enjoying the many good, special moments can nourish us. But, it’s important to spend a little time to develop habits that will keep you healthy; this is something that can pay big dividends for you and your family in the long run!
If you’re looking to expand on your dad knowledge, check out:
The Whole-Brain Child by Dr Dan Siegel and Dr Tina Payne Bryson
Raising Boys/Girls in the 21st Century by Steve Biddulph
If you or someone you know need urgent help with mental health, call:
Lifeline (24 hours): 13 11 14
Lifeline Text (6.00pm - Midnight (AEST)): 0477 13 11 14
Kids Helpline (24 hours): 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia (24 hours): 1300 78 99 78
SANE Helpline (mental illness information, support and referral): 1800 18 7263
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Dr Dan Mirmilstein
Dr Dan Mirmilstein
Dr Dan Mirmilstein is a loving dad and husband, avid meditator, superhero fan and Lego enthusiast. He works as a psychiatry registrar in a major metropolitan health service helping people improve their mental health.