[FALLS CHURCH, Va., Oct. 14]--On October 10, Army Brig. Gen. Deydre S. Teyhen, the Commanding General of Brook Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, emphasized the importance of taking small steps to improve overall personal, family, and life outcomes in the post-pandemic environment. Teyhen spoke at the Military Family Forum I: My Army Life — Grit, Growth, and Balance, at the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting (AUSA), in Washington, D.C.
Teyhen is a physical therapy who served as the Deputy of Therapeutics for Operation Warp Speed at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and as the Assistant Chief of Staff-Public Health at the Army’s Office of the Surgeon General. She spoke during the first of three AUSA forums that focused on the Army Family. The forums focused on topics designed to help Army Families thrive in the military service environment.
“Small changes make a big difference,” said Teyhen. “Take one step at a time. Some people want to lose weight. Well, how do you do that in a way that builds psychological safety and your grit and your resiliency? It’s probably not by saying—I don’t want to eat these types of foods. Because then, when you eat them, you feel like you fell off the bandwagon, and you’re disappointed. Well, guess what, your own ability to deny yourself a cupcake will only last for so long. But if you just change it around to--something more simple like—‘I’m going to make half of my plate fruits and vegetables, and I’m going to eat those first or I’m going to strive to get eight servings of fruits and vegetables a day’…when you eat six, but don’t eat eight, you don’t feel guilty. It’s about changing how you want to approach it in a way that’s positive.
“You can flip it from ‘I want to lose weight’ to ‘I want to eat healthier’. An interesting point is that, when they put the American Heart Association diet, which people feel is really strict, up against something as simple as- ‘I’m going to make half my plate fruits and vegetables, and I’m going to eat those first’, people experienced the same amount of weight loss,” Teyhen said.
Teyhen reiterated that small steps won’t always be a panacea. But, just like with walking, small steps get you closer to where you want to be. Once a person is comfortable with the initial small changes, then they can incorporate new small changes. Each step gets them closer to their end goal.
“New habits take about six weeks to develop,” she said. “You have to decide to take the next steps. It’s a journey and behavior change is hard. Regardless of what your goal is--whether it’s school, changing careers, or improving your sleep--it’s one step at a time,” she said.
People’s habits have changed in the last two-plus years of living in a global pandemic. Due to pandemic-induced lockdowns, restrictions, and fears, many people replaced the habits that gave them joy with endless internet and social media consumption and other things. Teyhen said fewer people are investing in the things that once brought them joy and that, despite the technology that brings the world together, people are less connected than they were before COVID-19.
“[People should] go back a couple of years and think about those things that made you happy before COVID. What brought you joy? Are you doing those things?” she said.
Teyhen expressed the importance of connections and relationships. In a study done by Harvard University about six decades ago, the researchers focused on a study set of people from Harvard and a similar group of people from the inner city of Boston. The latter group of people were disadvantaged. Researchers followed the two groups, and the only predictor of success six or more decades later was their social connectedness.
“How well do you have fortified people that you can really rely on in a time of need?” Teyhen asked. “The folks in the study, regardless of whether they were at Harvard or in the inner city of Boston, the folks that had the most people that they can rely on and they spent time investing in, those people had the best outcomes both from a physical and mental health perspective. Calling those friends…calling those family members that you haven’t spoken to in a long time-- it really does matter in your overall health. The little things really do matter,” said Teyhen.
Teyhen also shared a study that focused on communities and cultures around the world where people lived to be 100 years old. She said those areas are called Blue Zones. They measured what was common in any culture where people survived to be 100 years old. What they learned was that these people were doing really simple things that are available to all. What they found is nine behaviors or ways of thinking were consistent in the hundreds of centenarians whom the researchers studied. The nine main findings fall in four categories: connect, move, right outlook, and eat wisely.
1. Move naturally (the gym isn’t always required)
2. Purpose (why do you wake up in the morning?)
3. Downshift (pray, nap)
4. 80% Rule (stop eating at 80% full)
5. Plant slant (centenarians ate lots of beans)
6. Wine at 5 (one to two glasses per day; most blue zone people drink at least moderately)
7. Belong (99% belonged to a faith-based community)
8. Loved ones first (family was first—aging parents, committed to a life partner, invested in their children)
9. Right tribe (The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors)
“The great news is that these [Blue Zone findings] are things we can all do right now, during a pandemic or not during a pandemic,” said Teyhen. Where do you want to start your journey of self-care? [The nine habits of the Blue Zones] can be done no matter where we are in the pandemic or where we are as a Nation. Whatever it is that you want to do…start it. Start somewhere. Just do it,” said Teyhen.
Holly Dailey, Director, Family Readiness at the Association of the United States Army gave opening remarks for the panel. The entire panel can be viewed at: https://youtu.be/xfFDHvacLaU
More useful links:
Army’s first ever Health of the Family Report:
For more information on the Blue Zones: https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/
AUSA livestreams: https://www.ausa.org/2022-annual-meeting/live-streams
Disclaimer: The appearance of hyperlinks in this article does not constitute endorsement by the United States Army nor the United States Army Medical Command.