Maintaining balanced lifestyle key to staying healthy

  • Published
  • By 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs
  • 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas Combining a healthy diet, exercise and sleep habits is the key to an overall healthful lifestyle, something that is paramount in many people’s minds during the ongoing pandemic.

“It’s important to talk about all of the components because your body does not work well if it isn’t working together,” said 2nd Lt. Denise Johnson, an aerospace physiologist with the 12th Operations Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, who specializes in optimizing human performance. “Exercise, a healthy, balanced diet and getting good sleep can all, in theory, improve your immunity because these things will make help kickstart your body’s natural response.”

The idea is to both reduce the mental and physical stress on your body, as well as improve your body’s ability to respond to stress, which can come in the form of mental or physical stress, or in this case, illness.

A nutrient-dense diet full of good proteins, healthy fats and green, leafy vegetables helps feed and support cell function in the human body. While most know the basics of a healthy diet, Johnson says people may not realize the importance of healthy fats in the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

Cardiovascular and high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, help increase blood flow and thus the oxygen and nutrient delivery. It also helps relieve stress and helps the body have a lower resting heart rate and blood pressure.

“People with a good cardio or HIIT exercise routine are much better at handling stress and stressful situations than a couch potato,” Johnson said.  “Think of it like pressing play on your body’s natural stress and immune response. It's something that already happens in the body, exercise just makes it more efficient.”

Rest, through quality sleep, meditation and stretching, helps hormone levels reset. Those who don’t get the recommended levels of 7 to 8 hours of sleep have 40 percent more of the stress hormone cortisol and eat 300-400 more calories each day.

These things all work together to ensure the human body is at peak performance – nutrition fuels exercise; exercise leads to a good night’s sleep; a good night’s sleep helps prevent overeating. This overall cycle helps balance stress hormones and “presses play” on the body’s natural responses.

Keeping these in balance while being isolated or working long shifts as an emergency essential worker can present even more of a challenge than normal.

For those working long shifts, Johnson recommends making the most of sleep.

“This kind of intense shift work can be similar to an aviation lifestyle: lack of sleep, overuse of caffeine, stressful situations,” Johnson said. “Maximize the time you do get to sleep by putting it to good use.”

She recommends putting electronics away, stretching before bed and then going to sleep in a cool, dark room. When trying to wake up, drink a glass of water and turn on the lights as soon as possible.

During the day, she recommends keeping a lot of healthy fats on hand, which help improve mood, memory retention and cognitive ability, as well as help prevent anxiety, depression and mood swings.

For those home in isolation, Johnson recommends getting up to move every 30 minutes to an hour.

“A body in motion stays in motion; your body was not meant to be a couch potato,” Johnson said. “Get up and move around, even if it's just yard work or cleaning your house. Humans need accomplishment, they need to do.”

While gyms and recreation centers may be closed, there are a multitude of options to exercise and stay active.

“Be creative in your own home,” said Maj. Danielle Anderson, 59th Medical Operations Squadron physical therapist at JBSA-Lackland. “If you have stairs, use them. Use your open spaces to do some body weight exercises.”

Capt. David Sachse, another physical therapist with the 59th MDOG, said he has seen some units set up unit running or fitness challenges, keeping one another accountable through texts, calls and social media.

“Use social media to set up challenges for yourself and your friends,” Sachse said. “It helps maintain social distancing while keeping in social contact and doing something healthy.”

For those staying home with their families, Anderson recommends getting the whole family involved.

“This is a great time with our kiddos at home where we can start instilling healthy habits,” she said. “Just as exercise is important for our physical and mental health, it is important for our young kids as well. This is a wonderful time to start showing them how to exercise, in the form of bodyweight exercises like squatting and jumping, or even races, like running or bear crawling.”