Staying healthy and fit is incredibly important for veterans. After serving our country, veterans deserve to live a long, healthy, and fulfilling life. However, veterans face unique health challenges that can make maintaining wellness more difficult. From physical injuries to mental health struggles, veterans must be proactive about their health.
The transition back to civilian life can also present roadblocks to staying active and eating well. Without the structure of military service, it’s easy to fall into unhealthy habits. Additionally, financial constraints or limited access to healthcare can prevent veterans from prioritizing their health.
That’s why it’s so important for veterans to take control of their well-being. With knowledge, planning, and perseverance, veterans can overcome obstacles and achieve optimal health. This article provides seven tips to help veterans stay fit, healthy, and energized as they start their post-service lives. Adopting even a few of these practices can lead to noticeable improvements in health and quality of life.
1. Manage Chronic Conditions
Due to hazardous exposures and other factors, veterans face an increased risk for chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. If you have been diagnosed with a chronic disease, be diligent about managing it. It’s essential to monitor the length of symptoms, as prolonged ones might indicate an exacerbation or complication of your condition.
This includes carefully monitoring your health, taking medications as prescribed, attending all medical appointments, and getting recommended screening tests.
Making healthy lifestyle changes, including improving your diet, getting more exercise, getting rid of extra weight, quitting smoking, and drinking less alcohol, can help keep chronic illnesses under control. Speak up about any new or concerning symptoms and get the care you need quickly to prevent complications.
2. Focus on Nutrition
Eating a nutritious, balanced diet is the foundation for good health. As a veteran, be mindful of getting all the nutrients your body needs through natural, minimally processed foods. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, focusing on different colors to get a variety of vitamins and minerals. Lean proteins like chicken, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts help maintain and build muscle.
While treats are fine in moderation, limit added sugars, salty snacks, and refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and baked goods. Planning out nutritious meals and doing meal prep on your days off helps remove the temptation to eat out. If you have a specific condition, talk to your doctor about supplements that can support your health needs. Good nutrition gives you the energy and nutrients to power through your day.
3. Incorporate Physical Activity
Regular exercise is vital for both physical and mental health. Aim to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity like brisk walking or 30 minutes most days of more vigorous activity like running. Incorporate a mix of aerobic exercise, strength training, flexibility exercises, and balance training. Start slowly if you are new to exercise, and gradually increase the duration and intensity.
Physical activity has so many evidence-based health benefits. It can boost energy levels, mood, sleep quality, and self-esteem. It reduces anxiety, depression, stress, and pain levels. It promotes weight management and cardiovascular health. And it just makes you feel good! Find forms of exercise you enjoy and find convenient to stick with long-term.
4. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep has a huge impact on your mental and physical health. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night. Practice good sleep habits like keeping a consistent bedtime and wake time, even on weekends.
Limit screen time and stimulating activities before bed. Optimize your sleep environment by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Consider blackout curtains and a white noise machine. Avoid large meals, caffeine, alcohol, and vigorous exercise close to bedtime.
If you regularly have trouble falling or staying asleep, talk to your doctor. They may recommend sleep aids, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or treatment for underlying conditions interfering with sleep.
Getting on a better sleep schedule can improve concentration, memory, mood, immune function, and energy levels. Don’t underestimate the importance of quality sleep.
5. Manage Stress
Given the intense experiences of military service, managing stress is critical for veterans. Make time for relaxing and enjoyable activities to give your body a break from the heightened stress response.
Activities like reading, spending time in nature, listening to music, or socializing with friends can help calm the mind. Practices like yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and mindfulness have research backing their stress-reducing benefits.
Identify your stress triggers so you can better manage them. Set reasonable goals for yourself and be kind to yourself if they aren’t all met.
Find healthy stress relief strategies that work for you. Don’t hesitate to seek counseling or a support group to help develop coping skills. Finding purpose in serving others or volunteering can also help manage stress.
6. Stay Socially Connected
After leaving the military, maintaining strong social connections is vital for mental health. Spend quality time with family and friends who enrich your life. Expand your social network by joining groups, classes, or teams based on your interests.
Consider volunteering for an organization whose mission you believe in. Check in regularly with fellow veterans who understand your experiences.
If you start to feel lonely or isolated, make an effort to be more social. Social interaction has so many benefits—it reduces stress, anxiety, and depression while providing emotional support, increasing physical activity, and giving more purpose and joy to life. Prioritize relationships that support your health and well-being.
7. Stay Positive and Motivated
Adopting a positive mindset and staying motivated helps veterans stick with healthy changes long-term. Don’t beat yourself up over setbacks. Instead of perfection, focus on progress. Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations.
Track your wins. Recruit a buddy, join fitness challenges, use apps, or make it a competition!
When you feel discouraged, remember your “why.” Your health impacts every area of your life. Prioritizing wellness and self-care enables veterans to live life to the fullest. Staying positive about the small steps that lead to big change keeps you moving forward.
Getting and staying fit can transform the quality of life for veterans. While it presents unique challenges, taking a proactive approach lays the groundwork for success. Listen to your body, nourish yourself well, and make fitness a consistent priority. Be patient and celebrate small victories. Stay connected with resources and fellow veterans. With these tips, veterans can take control of their health and fitness for a long and vibrant life.