Does Having a “Dad Bod” Put Your Health at Risk?

The world has come to embrace the “dad bod” as an endearing body type that exemplifies the loving family man. Find out if it possesses health issues.

An Asian man with a dad bod figure is touching his protruding stomach

A relatively recent survey in the United States shows that about 60% of people are fans of the “dad bod”. There’s no shortage of dad bods in Malaysia too, so it’s heartening to know that societies tend to be forgiving of the changes that happen to our bodies as we grow older (we hope they will embrace mum bods too!).  

Often described as being a male body that packs a few extra kilos in the midsection, the dad bod is most often associated with men in their late twenties through their fifties, coinciding with the age that some men become fathers.

We spoke to three men, Bernard, Ibrahim and Raj, about their experience with having a dad bod.

Physical Changes in Your Mid-Thirties

Man working at home at night in front of a tablet with papers on a desk.
Life responsibilities and less time to exercise can contribute to a dad bod.

You’ve been a lean, mean, athletic person running marathons or staying late at the mamak watching football with your buddies. Before you know it, you’re a happy and contented (even if a little stressed-out) husband to your loving wife and perhaps even a father to your little ones. You carry excess weight around the tummy, but you’re still considered cute, perhaps even attractive, because your plump physique is that of a family man’s – you have a dad bod.  

For many men, the dad bod starts showing right around the early to mid-thirties age range, when life responsibilities begin to pick up and there’s less time for keeping up with regular exercise. “I started noticing that I had a dad bod in my early thirties when my wife pointed out my big tummy, and my pants didn’t fit as well. This was about five or six years after we had our two young sons who are still in primary school,” says Bernard (not his real name), a 38-year-old government servant.  

Similarly, Ibrahim (not his real name), a 44-year-old general manager of a security company, also recalls developing a dad bod about ten years ago in his early to mid-thirties, when his oldest daughter was eight. 

Having a Dad Bod Increases the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases 

As a man’s body begins to age and their metabolism slows, life stresses, excess calories, and a more sedentary lifestyle can all lead to gaining more visceral fat, which is fat that wraps around the vital organs.

The larger midsection among men entering their middle life is a sign of excess visceral fat. It is also known as “love handles”. Unfortunately, excess visceral fat is also associated with higher health risks as these fat cells tend to secrete more harmful and inflammatory proteins and hormones into the bloodstream. A study published in Obesity Reviews shows evidence that the accumulation of visceral fat can increase the risks of cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers, such as colorectal and pancreatic cancers. 

Although called a dad bod, this body type is not just reserved for fathers. Raj (not his real name), a managing director of a business development company, is 34 and has no children. He too noticed that he started developing a dad bod in his early thirties. “I started noticing my body changing a couple of years ago, when I turned 32. The fat distribution is different – I have more excess fat around my stomach,” he shares.

Is There a Way to Have a Healthy “Dad Bod”?

A portrait of a smiling family in the park
A “dad bod” is nothing to be ashamed of. By sticking to a workout routine and a healthy diet, you can stay healthy.

Body aesthetics and vanity aside, it is more important to focus on improving your health. Among the signs that your dad bod is posing some health risks is a lack of physical stamina and mobility. “I get tired very easily, and I don’t feel as fit as before,” Bernard shares.

Raj also complains that he now has less mobility and is starting to develop food sensitivities owing to his less-than-optimal health. For Ibrahim, he wants to keep up with his daughter. “My wife and I have a young toddler and I want to be able to play with her without getting tired so quickly,” he says.  

Manage diet, exercise, and stress 

Not surprisingly, love handles and a dad bod often have a lot to do with excessive calorie intake. “We eat as a family, and sometimes when my wife and children don’t finish their food, I eat the leftovers too,” Bernard admits. This often leads to the body storing excess energy in the form of fat. You can have a harder time trying to watch what you eat, so try making it a family affair by eating healthily together. 

Another habit that has affected nearly all urbanised societies is a lack of physical activity. Build in more movement and exercise into your regular routine with your family. “My wife and I both have very demanding jobs that involve a lot of computer use, so often we forget to go outside and get some sun. Now that we’re both starting to see these changes in our bodies, we make a more conscious effort to be more active. We even set up a mini gym at home where we can lift weights,” Raj says.  

Improving diet and exercise goes hand in hand with stress management. “Fortunately, I’ve always loved being sporty because it’s a stress reliever for me. Every other weekend, as a family we go to the park and do different activities together. In addition to it being exercise time, it’s also great family time,” Ibrahim happily recalls. “Don’t give up, keep moving and exercising!” 

Enabling Your Body to be the Best “Bod” It Can Be 

The dad bod, especially the characteristic love handles, is contributed by chronic work stress and unhealthy dietary habits according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). “This causes Spleen Qi Deficiency and Liver Qi Stagnation, resulting in the formation and accumulation of stagnant fluids, Dampness, and phlegm in the body. With the addition of adopting a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, these pathogenic factors will tend to build up around the abdomen, giving rise to love handles,” Real Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew explains.

Physician Yew also shares that many TCM modalities such as acupuncture, cupping therapy, moxibustion, gua sha (scraping) and tuina (Chinese manual therapy) and herbal medicine can support a sluggish dad bod in achieving better shape and health. There are acupressure points that you can work on that can help with love handles: 

  • He gu (LI4, 合谷) 
  • Zu san li (ST36, 足三里) 
  • Yin ling quan (SP9, 阴陵泉) 
  • Feng long (ST40, 丰隆) 
  • Tai chong (LR3, 太沖) 
  • Zhong wan (RN12, 中脘) 
  • Tian shu (ST25, 天枢) 
  • Da heng (SP15, 大横) 
  • Jing men (GB25, 京门) 
  • Dai mai (GB26, 带脉) 

Apply pressure to these points using your fingers or a blunt object until tenderness is felt and massage them in a circular motion, 20 times each. Repeat for at least three minutes per point. 

However, it is recommended to check with a TCM professional regarding the proper acupressure technique to perform and the suitability of these points based on your unique body constitution. This is to avoid unwanted side effects and potential injuries. In addition, do take note that the effects of acupressure are limited. Getting acupuncture treatment instead will derive much better outcomes.

You can also work with a licensed TCM practitioner to try herbal formulas that help strengthen Spleen qi and dispel Dampness and phlegm such as Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi (香砂六君子) and Xing Sha Ping Wei San (香砂平胃散). Single-herb formulations like Cordyceps sinensis mycelia (zhong guo chong cao, 中国虫草) are great for energy and metabolism.  

The phenomenon of the beloved dad bod may be popular, but there are health risks associated with excess abdominal fat or love handles. Fortunately, having a healthy version of the dad bod is completely attainable by living an active lifestyle and consuming a well-balanced diet.

References

  1. StudyFinds.org. 2022. Summer of love handles! 6 in 10 Americans are more attracted to men with a dad bod!  [Accessed 2 July 2022].
  2. Urology of Virginia. 16 Reasons You Can’t Get Rid of Your Love Handles.  [Accessed 2 July 2022].
  3. National Academy of Sports Medicine. No Love for Those Love Handles: Dispelling Myths About Body Fat Reduction.  [Accessed 2 July 2022].
  4. Cleveland Clinic. 2019. Ditch the Dreaded ‘Dad Bod’.  [Accessed 2 July 2022].
  5. Pacific College of Health and Science. 2019. Acupuncture Can Help with Weight Loss.  [Accessed 6 June 2022]. 
  6. International Journal of Microbiology. 2015. Edible Mushrooms: Improving Human Health and Promoting Quality Life.  [Accessed 2 July 2022]. 
  7. Health Direct, Department of Health, Australian Government. 2021. How to reduce visceral body fat (hidden fat).  [Accessed 2 July 2022]. 
  8. Obesity Reviews. 2020. Visceral obesity and incident cancer and cardiovascular disease: An integrative review of the epidemiological evidence.  [Accessed 6 July 2022]. 

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