In sickness & in health: Promoting healthy lifestyles for military spouses
Along with everyday stressors, military spouses are exposed to unique stressors that may compromise their health (e.g., deployment stress, injury stress, family stress, and relocation stress). Because of these unique stressors, it’s important to find ways to minimize stress to live a healthier lifestyle. Many people’s first thought when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle is to increase exercise or improve their diet. Although diet and exercise are both important aspects of health, a person’s health can be improved in a multitude of other ways (e.g., reducing stressors when possible, practicing healthy sleep habits, maintaining social support). In this article, common health-related struggles of military spouses are identified, and we provide suggestions on ways to incorporate healthier activities into your daily life.
According to recent research conducted by Corry and colleagues (2019), many military spouses may struggle to meet their health-related goals, such as reaching a certain body mass index (BMI) and getting enough exercise or sleep. More specifically, findings from this study showed:
- Fewer than half of military spouses met the healthy weight/BMI (body mass index) goal or strength training goals;
- The proportion of military spouses who met their sleep goal was lower compared to the national target for the U.S. adult population (i.e., 7 hours a day for those younger than 21 years old and 8 hours for those older than 21 years old);
- Military spouses reported smoking more than the national target for the U.S. adult population (i.e., fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and no smoking in the past year); and
- Military spouses who were also parents were less likely to meet weight, exercise, and sleep goals.
Based on these findings, it’s clear that military spouses may benefit from additional support to ensure a healthy lifestyle. So, to help military spouses achieve their health goals, we’ve compiled several tips for incorporating healthier activities into their lives (e.g., healthy eating behaviors, sleep habits, stress management).
- Understand food labels. Food labels give helpful information for understanding what you’re eating, as well as portion sizes. Many people do not understand the unknowns of processed foods, and while all processed foods are not unhealthy, many contain high levels of sugar, salt, and fat that are unhealthy when eaten in large amounts.
- Plan for your meals. This can help limit stress and reduce spending on foods high in sugar and sodium.
- Be mindful while eating. Did a parent ever tell you that you need to chew 20 times before taking another bite? When you do this, you’re being mindful of your eating. Being mindful allows you to slow down, really enjoy your meal, and you allow your body time to feel full (it takes your body about 20 minutes to feel full after you begin eating).
- Drink water. Men need to drink around 13 8-ounce cups of water a day (104 ounces) while women need to drink about nine (72 ounces). Drinking water quenches your thirst and can keep you from binge eating when you’re bored.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol is associated with short- and long-term health risks (e.g., high blood pressure, various cancers, engaging in sexually risky behaviors), and these risks increase with each drink consumed. Therefore, it’s recommended that men drink fewer than 14 alcoholic beverages in a week (2 or fewer in a day), and women drink fewer than 7 alcoholic beverages in a week (1 or less in a day).
- Any activity is better than no activity. The recommended physical activity for adults is 150 minutes per week – about 20 minutes per day – of moderate-intensity activity, such as taking a brisk walk or playing pickleball with friends, or 75 minutes per week – about 10 minutes per day – of vigorous aerobic activity, such as swimming and aerobic dancing. The most important things to keep in mind here is that you listen to your body, don’t push yourself too hard too quickly, and you don’t need to be an all-star athlete when trying something new (you’ll get there soon enough!).
- Change your mindset – Working out isn’t just about losing weight. It’s also a great tool to help with alleviating the stresses of day-to-day life, and it can help improve your mood, boost your energy, promote better sleep, and more.
Healthy Sleep Habits
- Keep a consistent sleep schedule and get up at the same time every morning. When you get good sleep, your body relieves stress.
- Turn off electronics 30 – 60 minutes before going to sleep because they have shown to have adverse effects on your sleep (i.e., increased time it takes to fall asleep, reduced sleep quality, affected attentiveness the following day).
- Get adequate sleep. Because adults should sleep 7+ hours a night and teenagers should sleep 8 – 10, make sure that you go to bed early enough to sleep the recommended amount.
- Declutter. Decluttering has been found to be one of the best places to start when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. Decluttering can be beneficial in managing stress because when you have a clean and organized space, you can focus on other areas of your life. It can also help make your space a place to decompress from daily stress.
- Find your calm. Finding a way to calm down and relax amidst all the stress can sometimes be difficult to do on your own, but it’s important that you find ways to alleviate stress when possible. You might take just 5 minutes to engage in mindful activities, such as meditating or journaling. If you’re interested in mindfulness programs, MoodHacker, available through Military OneSource , can help track your mood and help you better understand your feelings.
- Hold yourself accountable to stay motivated and achieve your goals. One way to do so is by finding an accountability partner to send daily or weekly texts to of some of your workouts and healthy meals. Another way to stay motivated is by writing down your daily, weekly, and long-term goals and checking in to assess your progress. A daily app may also be helpful in tracking yourself and maintaining accountability.
- Limit or quit smoking because it’s linked to cardiovascular, respiratory, and reproductive health issues, along with cancers. Do it for yourself and only when you’re ready. It may be difficult to just quit cold turkey, but there is no harm in trying to quit.
- Use support systems. Friends and family can provide excellent support when you need it. Turning to them for encouragement might help on the days when making a lifestyle change proves difficult.
- Find a community. Find friends and build a strong network of people who are looking to lead a healthier lifestyle. Having someone else who is working toward the same goal can help keep you accountable and can also be a good workout buddy!
- Try a group exercise class. Exercising with a group can eliminate the pressure of planning workouts and is a wonderful way to meet people who also enjoy exercise!
Accessing resources can be difficult or intimidating for people who are looking to kickstart their health. The resources below make it easy to start your healthy lifestyle:
- Military OneSource provides a multitude of health and well-being resources for military families. One resource, MyPlate.gov, is a website that provides nutrition tips and recipes as well as information about nutrition during different life stages (e.g., pregnancy and breast feeding, preschoolers, and older adults). Another helpful resource is health.gov, which highlights the importance of a healthy diet and physical activity and provides the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
- Military Families Magazine offers information on assorted topics pertaining to military families. For example, “The First Step in Staying Healthy as A Military Spouse” is an article specifically for military spouses looking to work on their physical health. This article highlights the specific importance for military wives of prioritizing health and suggests some ways of accomplishing this.
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