Life in the military is physically demanding. From day one of basic training, you are placed in the daily rigor of running, push-ups and sit-ups to pass the Physical Fitness Test and graduate to Advanced Infantry Training.
Upon graduation, and while holding a career in the military, you must continue to maintain and even improve your physical fitness to ensure you are ready if and when you are called to combat.
Fast forward 20 years when you retire or are otherwise honorably discharged, you are no longer subject to such high physical demands. And for many veterans, it becomes a challenge to maintain a regular fitness regimen. In fact, according to an article published on the U.S. Army website, approximately half of the Army retirees had a body mass index that classified them as obese.
There are many factors that can contribute to this, including aging, injuries sustained in combat, both physically and mentally, and merely getting used to civilian life. Even so, it is important for veterans to find time to exercise. Here are four reasons why.
1. Reduces the risk of future complications
It is true that exercise is beneficial for everyone, not just veterans. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Veterans were more likely than non-veterans to report having two or more chronic conditions including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and kidney disease. Many of these conditions can be prevented and even combated by staying active after your period of service
2. Reduces the effects of PTSD
Military service is not only taxing on the body but the mind as well. In the same CDC findings, veterans reported serious psychological distress more often than non-veterans.
And while exercise can’t take away the hurt and trauma brought about by war, research has found that adopting a fitness regimen and other healthy choices can reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs says that exercise may give you a break from difficult emotions and distract you from painful memories or worries.
3. Improves self-esteem
While you were on active duty, you had a purpose. Whether in uniform or not, you were part of something extremely challenging but very important. And while you have earned the utmost respect for your years of service from millions around the world, not being actively engaged in something you dedicated years of your life to can cause you to have self-doubt.
Having a regular fitness regimen with a specific goal in mind may help you begin to regain a sense of purpose. And then as you start to shed the pounds, build muscle strength and feel increased energy, an improvement in self-esteem will be a natural result.
4. Provides a healthy support system
Within the military, there is comradery. Many active servicemen and women live on base and/or work closely on a daily basis with those who share not only a common purpose but lifestyle. You have fellow comrades and leaders who push you to be and do your best, and when that ends, it is difficult to stay motivated alone.
Exercising, particularly as part of a group or team can help you to once again find the support system you may be searching for.
There are even organizations around the country like Team Red, White, and Blue that participates in events and races in an effort to “enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.”
Through groups like these and other fitness organizations, you can find the support system you need. You may even meet others who share your struggles, all while keeping your body, and mind healthy.