The Army Surgeon General proposed a challenge to the crowd gathered to participate in the holistic approach to self-care forum at the annual Association of the United States Army conference Oct. 22.
“Give me 24 hours for you to take a few simple steps for a better tomorrow,” said Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho.
She asked participants to do 30 minutes of activity, both in the morning and afternoon; to eat calories rather than drinking them and avoid caffeine until the next morning; and to remove electronics from the bedroom and get seven uninterrupted hours of sleep.
These steps are part of a new Army program, the Performance Triad, launched by the Office of the Surgeon General and Army Medicine. The triad consists of eating right, being active and sleeping well, within the concept of life space. The idea is to fully incorporate these habits into everyday life for optimal health.
Horoho cited startling statistics to highlight the importance of a healthy nation.
Only one in four Americans ages 17 to 24 is eligible for the Army, she said.
“Seventy-five percent are unfit to serve … due to medical, weight or legal issues,” she said. “This is a clear and present danger for national security.”
We need to move from a healthcare system, focused on illness and injury, to a system for health, Horoho said. This change would recognize health as a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing, not merely the absence of disease.
Her point was highlighted by panelist Dr. James Gordon, director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
Self-care is the route of prevention and health promotion, he said, which leads to fewer people needing healthcare after falling ill.
In his opinion, self-care, in many cases, is actually more important than diagnosis. Therapy and medication may be needed too, he said, but the skills of self-care should be fundamental to everyone, in the military and beyond.
Horoho used videos and images to illustrate that much of our thinking is subconscious and this thinking must be controlled if we are to make informed decisions.
She explained how lack of sleep leads to lack of activity in the daytime and poor eating choices. By tying the three concepts together and applying their use to real-life situations, Horoho emphasized the positive outcomes that will come for soldiers and their families by following the Triad’s recommendations.
Strike a balance
The topic repeatedly cited by each panelist was striking a balance in life.
Dana Stirk, program manager of the Real Warrior Campaign, and Lynda MacFarland, military family advocate and author, spoke on decreasing stigmatization of mental illness.
“There’s real value of people sharing personal stories,” Stirk said, in making mental health issues more publicly accepted, after MacFarland shared her own story of dealing with a bout of depression. MacFarland described another important triad: mind, body and spirit.
Master Sgt. Jennifer Loredo, an Army Master Resilience Trainer with the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Program, presented her story about her spouse’s death to demonstrate the importance of resiliency. Her work is part of the newer Army-wide Executive Resilience and Performance Course, designed to teach life coping skills to soldiers and family members.
“The key to taking care of oneself is balance, routine and setting priorities,” she said. This goes hand in hand with sleep, exercise and healthy eating.
“(The Performance Triad) is remarkable,” said Rosemary Williams, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. “It empowers small unit leaders to take care of soldiers.”
She cited another new program, the Healthy Base Initiative, which focuses on reducing obesity and tobacco use.
Assessments of the program are running through 2014 at three military posts to determine its success.
At this time, 9 out of 10 Americans will die of a preventable disease, Horoho said.
“It’s a choice, not something we have to accept.”