Sneaky Tricks to Boost Dad's Health

Help Motivate Dad to Eat Right, Exercise, and Live Well

Dad cooking with daughters
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Have your father's fitness and healthy lifestyle habits faltered? Would you like to get him to exercise and eat a more nutritious diet? Or perhaps you're trying to encourage Dad to stop smoking or reduce his drinking? Nagging the man in your life to change his routine probably won't work. But there are sneaky ways to get him to adopt a few healthier habits.

What Motivates Men to Get Healthy?

Men and women are slightly different when it comes to health motivation. While there is some overlap between the two genders, men are less likely to be motivated by external factors like body weight, body composition, appearance, and clothing size. And some research shows that when men are motivated by these factors, their commitment to healthy habits is more likely to be sporadic.

So how do you get a guy to start—and stick to—a wellness program? Studies show that if you engage his competitive side, you are more likely to be successful. For example, if you would like to get Dad to increase his daily physical activity, asking him to exercise may not work. But if you invite him to participate in sports, he may show more interest.

In one study of young adults, researchers found that certain aspects of sports participation, such as competition, affiliation, enjoyment, and challenge were likely to get a guy interested in becoming more active.

Study authors said that men are often motivated by performance and ego-related factors, such as the excitement of competition and social recognition.

Self-perception and independence are also important. Both men and women are more likely to stick to a program when they feel competent and successful, but men are likely to look for opportunities where they can demonstrate mastery and competence.

What doesn't work when you're trying to motivate your dad to get healthy? Negativity and nagging top the list of no-nos. Research published in Nutrition Reviews found that fear-based messages about health and wellness are less likely to work than messages that are "gain-framed." Study authors did point out that it's important to know your audience because each person's response to a message is unique, but in general, they found that giving a nudge with a positive benefit attached worked better than a fear-based remark.

7 Sneaky Ways to Improve Dad's Health

Are you ready to rally your dad to get healthy? Use any of these ideas to nudge your father to get and stay well. You can even gather your siblings to come up with ideas of your own:

  • Reminisce and recreate. Did Dad play sports in high school or college? Does he keep memorabilia in his office or garage to celebrate his accomplishments as an athlete? Give dad the chance to brag about his glory days then ask him to teach you the sport. Grab a football and schedule a few sessions when he can teach you to throw. Did your father run track? Go to the local high school and have him demonstrate a few running drills. Then ask him to coach you for a month or two.
  • Sign up for a ride or a race. Engage Dad's competitive side and sign up for an event in his hometown. Perhaps there is a 5k run or walk that you can train for together. Or dust off dad's bike and start training together for a group ride. Just be sure that the event is far enough in the future (at least 2-3 months) so your father feels that he has time to get in shape and feel comfortable about competing.
  • Get technical. If your father lives far away, consider getting him a fitness tracker and engaging him in a food or fitness challenge. Many trackers, by brands like Fitbit and Polar, allow you to connect with friends and family on the app to compare stats. So you and Dad can challenge each other to a 10,000-steps-per-day walk-off. Fitbit also has a new feature that tracks macronutrient balance. So if you are trying to get Dad to lay off the starchy snacks and beer in favor of more diet-friendly, muscle-building proteinyou can check each other's progress.
  • Foster new healthy friendships. According to experts, being invited to participate in an activity may improve motivation to exercise. So, for example, if Dad has friends who hike on the weekends, encourage them to invite him along. Social support also helps to boosts adherence to diet and exercise programs. Having healthy friends may help encourage him to boost his participation in wellness activities and perhaps even reduce his participation in less healthy habits, like smoking or drinking.
  • Make nutritious meals together. Scientific studies have shown that we eat differently when we are around others. In fact, we tend to mirror the eating behavior of the people around us. In one study, researchers said that "conforming to the behavior of others is adaptive and we find it rewarding." If you are trying to get Dad to clean up his diet, set up a weekly meal schedule and dine together. You can either make healthy meals at home or go out to dinner and find nutritious, diet-friendly menu options at his favorite restaurant.
  • Point out performance benefits. If Dad likes to beat his buddies on the golf course, show him how fitness activities like functional training will improve his game. There are plenty of programs in gyms and even online that are geared for guys who golf. Many of the exercises help to build strength and improve balance and stability. You may even be able to encourage him to cut back on high-calorie sodas or beer to lose belly fat so that his swing is more effective.
  • Seek out sports programs. Who is Dad's favorite sports team? There are countless NFL, NBA and NHL sports stars who endorse fitness products and some that even promote exercise programs. The NFL has a complete line-up of workouts that Dad might be willing to try if he knows that it is the same workout done by his favorite player.

Regardless of how you choose to inspire your dad to get healthy, remember that your participation probably means a lot to him. Try to choose activities that you can do together so that you build a strong, healthy relationship as you promote health and wellness in the family.


Chiaki Ura, Tsutomu Taga, et al  The factors influencing motivation to start exercise among elderly people in an urban area. Japanese Journal of Geriatrics. October 2011

Caudwell KM, Keatley DA. The Effect of Men's Body Attitudes and Motivation for Gym Attendance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning September 2016

Kravitz L.What Motivates People to Exercise?

Teixeira PJ, Silva MN, Mata J, Palmeira AL, Markland D. Motivation, self-determination, and long-term weight control. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2012;9:22. doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-22.