All it takes is chasing a toddler or two to make you realize just how important your physical health is when it comes to the parenting game. But once you become a dad, there seems to be less time: less time to plan healthy meals, less time to work out, less time to de-stress. So what is a dad today supposed to do? Check out the priorities for keeping yourself in tip-top shape while also navigating the challenges that come with combining your fitness and your fatherhood.

The top two things to watch out for: Young dads can face a higher risk of early death from heart disease and excessive drinking, and the younger you are when you have your first baby, the more significant the risk. Dr. Elina Einio of the University of Helsinki writes in a groundbreaking study, “Men who have a child before the age of 22 have a very clear higher midlife mortality than men who have children later, at an average age of 25 to 26.” This means that you can’t assume that just because you’re a young dad means that you get a pass on taking care of yourself. Researchers speculate that these health risks show up for young dads because of the stress of taking care of a family while still in the early stages of their education and careers. So if you’re someone who became a dad young, be on the lookout for your heart health and make sure that you either avoid alcohol or use strong moderation. 

You can’t beat regular exercise: Yes, you already know it, and you know that getting in that workout is so important. But how can you fit it in when there’s so much that needs to be done at work and at home? Invest in a couple of activities that allow you to take your kids along for the ride! A jogging stroller or a bike seat for your child to accompany you on your runs or bike rides can not only get you back into the exercise routine, it can also give you time with your child and for building great memories. Also, work with your spouse to divide and conquer: talk with your spouse about why fitness is important to you and explore ways you can help each other have the time you need for workouts. Split up household responsibilities, get your workout times on the calendar, and each take your turn both with childcare and time at the gym. Remember, the time you invest in exercise pays off big dividends of improved cardiovascular health, maintaining a healthy weight, all kinds of great mood-boosting brain chemicals, and the ability to more easily chase your kids.

Your kid eats like you do, not like you want them to: When it comes to food, our kids aren’t fooled by our sermons on the virtues of vegetables if they see us eating junk all the time. What food you keep in the house and what food you consume to your audience of kids play a big role in both your overall health and modeling for your kids what healthy eating looks like. Make the conversation around food in your home one that is focused on nutrition and balance. If you need help with determining the right menu for your family, work with a nutritionist to come up with a plan. While sugary treats and processed food can feel like the crutch we need to get us through busy, stressful days, overall your quality of health will drop as the quality of your food does. But the inverse is also true; the better you eat, the better your energy, the better your health, and the better the example you set for your kids. If you find that you are grappling with emotional issues around food, as an Altrua HealthShare Member, you can receive coaching through your membership with LifeWorks. If you’re not yet a Member of Altrua HealthShare, check out the affordable, flexible membership options available to you, with such features as LifeWorks, which gives you in-person counseling options and unlimited telecounseling services.

Getting in those zzzzzzs: Once you get the kids down at night, it can be really tempting to take some of those quiet hours and stay up far too late gaming, working, or planting yourself in front of a couple of movies on the television. (Check out this podcast with sleep expert Dr. Chris Winter on why we do this to ourselves and how to get better sleep.) You may be more than happy to hit the hay at a regular time, but maybe as part of your fatherhood profile, you’ve got a kid at your house who isn’t cooperating with your best-laid slumber plans. Talk with your spouse about sharing the midnight load. Compare your schedules for the upcoming days and strategize who will be on deck each particular night. While you still won’t be getting optimal sleep, you’ll hopefully at least have some breaks in the action to get some rest. And be careful not to over-schedule your life when you’re dealing with a child who isn’t a great sleeper; keep life to the basics, time for work, time to take care of your health, and ditch the rests. It’s a season, and your child will get through it. Don’t make it harder on yourself by keeping a cram-packed social schedule or by adding all kinds of special events and sporting excursions.

To heck with stress: Okay, okay, it’s not possible to completely remove stress from your life, particularly when some of those sources of stress live right in your house. What it does mean is that you do yourself and your health a favor when you identify those sources of stress you can eliminate, and you equip yourself with tools for managing the rest. What is causing you the most stress right now? Is there something that can be changed in that issue? Now, invert the box: what is something that causes you a little stress each day? Let’s say, for example, that your garage door opener has been on the fritz for the last couple of months. Every day, it means you’re having to add extra steps to get out the door and when you arrive home in the evening. Take two minutes, call for the repair person, and remove that small stressor. So often, we focus on the big stresses in our lives that we can’t do much about at the moment. But little stressors can add up to a big impact on our stress health, and many of them could be resolved, giving us more margin to deal with the big stuff. Do a quick inventory and determine what small things could make life a little easier.

And speaking of inventories, in your role as a dad, give yourself a health audit. (You can learn how by clicking here.) A health audit can help you understand where your current state of health is and where you need to make changes so that you can feel vibrant, energized, and positive. As parents, we often ignore and put off symptoms, mild but aggravating aches and pains, issues we need to deal with, but that aren’t ‘emergencies.’ A health audit can help you tune back into your body and make strides toward better health a few simple steps at a time.

Dads, there’s no one like you in your children’s lives. You’re important, you’re loved, and your health matter so much to the ones you love. If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the people who mean the most to you. Your family deserves to have a dad in their lives who takes care of himself. And you deserve it, too.