You’re in an exam room, wearing a blue paper robe as the doctor checks your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and weight. Afterward, he reaches into his pocket, takes out five oversized pills and places them on the counter. Something is written on each one: 1. Begin exercising regularly; 2. Continue to not smoke; 3. Eat a healthy diet; 4. If you drink alcohol, do so moderately; and 5. Maintain a healthy weight.
“You need all of these,” he says, “but it’s hard to swallow five at once. So today you’re taking just one. Guess which is the best to start with?”
If you guessed, “begin exercising regularly” you’re right! When you start to improve your health with physical activity and stick with it, other health-boosting habits naturally follow.
1. Start a walking program (get a buddy and a pedometer). Aim for 10,000 steps a day. As you get stronger, insert stretches of intense walking so that you break a sweat and your respiration rate goes up.
2. That’ll make it easier to stay off cigarettes. (People who exercise are 55 percent more likely to quit smoking successfully.)
3. Expending all that energy makes your body crave nutritious fuel. You’ll banish the Five Food Felons (they make you sluggish).
4. And you’ll start drinking less. Alcohol dehydrates and interferes with large muscle control (hard to keep walking!).
5. All of that helps shed excess pounds! Your reward? You’ll cut your risk for dementia by 60 percent and for diabetes and heart attack by 70 percent!
Maggie Simpson has an IQ of 158 (that’s in the genius range), even though year after year her growth seems as stunted as her vocabulary! Clearly, her mental powers are from Marge’s side of the family, particularly since what Dad eats before you’re conceived influences your health and development throughout life. (Since Maggie’s dad, Homer, is a beer-swilling, meat-loving, sweets-gobbling tubb-o, it may explain her delayed growth.)
But seriously, how can a man’s diet influence the health of his yet-to-be-conceived children? Genes within sperm can be turned on and off in response to environmental triggers (obesity, nutritional deficiencies, insulin resistance, chronic stress, etc.). And these altered genetic messages are passed along through sperm to an embryo at conception. After birth, they influence the metabolism of his children and may predispose the kids to a roster of diseases later in life, including diabetes and cancer.
We’re thinking men of child-bearing age should follow the recommendations that we suggest to all women who could become pregnant (since 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned). They are: Take a prenatal multivitamin daily, divided in half, and make sure you get 400 micrograms of folate a day to avoid birth defects such as spina bifida, as well as plenty of omega-3 DHA (900 milligrams) for eye and brain development (it also increases the chances of conception). Plus, avoid red meat; trans and saturated fats; and added sugars or syrups (you hear Homer yowling?); and eat only 100 percent whole grains. Dads, it’s your turn to step up to the (nutritional) plate.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.