Take that First Step Toward a Healthy Heart

Take that First Step Toward a Healthy Heart

Author: Dr. Kelly Blasko is a psychologist and the Mobile Web Program Lead at the National Center for Telehealth & Technology

If you’re in your 20s or 30s, the fear of having a heart attack or a stroke is probably pretty low. But it happens — and either one can dramatically change your life, and your family’s lives. How you take care of yourself in the areas of sleep, nutrition and activity are essential parts of a healthy life that can reduce your risk for a heart attack, both now and later. February is a good time to consider this topic; during American Heart Month, there are plenty of resources to help you learn about keeping your heart healthy, including the Million Hearts website managed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reality is that with a busy life, and even with the best intentions, it’s not always easy to get enough sleep, eat healthy and exercise regularly.  You may have thoughts such as:

  • “I don’t want to stop eating foods I like.”
  • “I don’t have time to exercise regularly.”
  • “It costs too much to eat healthy.”
  • “I’m too busy to take care of myself.”
  • “I don’t really know how to take care of my heart.”

Where to start? Improving heart health can begin with stress management. Many people respond to stress in ways that can directly impact their risks for heart disease.

In your busy life as an active-duty service member, you may work long hours with few breaks, worry about caring for your family, wonder how to handle your finances, and so on. Or, you may feel apprehensive about an upcoming deployment or return from deployment.  All of these situations can be stressful, and can distract you from changing your habits. Stress can also result in depression, anxiety or anger. It’s common to use harmful behaviors to calm down, like eating too much, sleeping too much, drinking more alcohol, or smoking.  While those feel like they alleviate stress at the time, in the long run, they’ll work against you.

The AfterDeployment website has several topics to help with stress management and other related mental-health issues that can affect your physical health. The site features a section for each topic including life stress, work adjustment, financial health, sleep, depression, anxiety, tobacco, and alcohol and drugs. In each section you’ll find a topic overview and recommended tools for you to try in your life. You can also take an assessment to discover how much these areas affect you.

As a psychologist, I’d recommend completing the Life Stress assessment first. This will give you a good idea of the level of stress in your life and point you to resources that offer proactive ways to reduce stress, and help your heart. You’re not too young to start, and have no fear! Just take one step at a time.

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