While you serve in the military, staying fit is just part of the routine, and it’s often scheduled into each day for you. When you leave active duty and re-establish the foundations of a civilian life, it can be difficult to maintain that discipline on your own. As a veteran, you sometimes need to dig deep to stay motivated and fit, especially if you’ve been wounded in the line of duty.
Finding a job and a place to live are typically the first priorities for new veterans — but once you’re settled, you also need to build fitness into your civilian schedule, and an injury makes fitness an even greater priority. According to the Wounded Warrior Project, about 13 percent of injured veterans are unemployed, and 88 percent receive benefits. For these veterans, staying in shape is more than a matter of pride: A strong body can bolster well-being and help you face, fight, and overcome physical, mental and emotional challenges.
Understanding the benefits of exercise
Even if your physical condition is limited by injury, circumstance, or internal resistance, there’s likely to be an exercise program that can help improve and maintain your physical and mental health. Regular exercise can provide these advantages:
- Helping slow the degeneration of nerve cells for those with neurodegenerative or neuromuscular diseases
- Strengthening complementary muscle groups to restore functionality to those with injuries
- Serving as a natural antidepressant and can bring on feelings of euphoria
- Combating the onset of many diseases and slowing the worsening of health conditions
- Improving appearance by enhancing posture, mobility, and skin elasticity
Choosing a place to live
A secure place to live is essential to well-being, so use available resources to help you find a great apartment. Consider what’s most important to you in a home and work from that list — independently or with a professional — to find an appropriate spot.
- On-site gyms are one of the most-important apartment amenities cited by renters, so many complexes now have state-of-the-art fitness centers. Consulting an apartment guide can help define your requirements and understand what accommodations and amenities are available in your area, in what price range.
- All vets can benefit from housing with fitness facilities on-site or nearby, and veterans with mobility issues especially need to plan ahead when choosing an apartment. Compare units near you that offer fitness amenities to determine whether they’re ADA-compliant and meet your needs.
- Real estate agents don’t charge renters or buyers for their services. (Commission is paid by the landlord or owner.) Consider consulting with an experienced real estate agent to help you find a place that meets your unique needs.
It’s equally important to focus on how workplace surroundings can affect your fitness and well-being. According to Business Insider, 86 percent of working Americans sit at a desk all day. Studies show that this acute lack of physical activity comes with a 40 percent increased risk of death. In view of these facts, outdoor work might begin to look more attractive — especially if you already prefer physical work to a desk job.
For example, if you gained experience working with heavy equipment in the service, you might opt for a job in construction. Operating heavy equipment is one way to stay active and spend your time outdoors. Some disabled vets will be able to perform this job with some adaptations. Check out the operator requirements to see if this is something that fits your interests and capabilities.
Prioritizing exercise daily
Maintaining fitness as a prominent element in your daily schedule can help return some of the daily structure you might be missing from the military. You need to learn how to use a fitness tracker to know when you hit your goals or when to keep going. These tips can help you establish a regular fitness routine that works:
- Start by mastering one or two exercises, then add one each day until you build a set of movements that work for your body.
- For a well-rounded workout, combine all four exercise elements: stretching for flexibility, weight-bearing for strength, aerobic exercise for muscular and cardiovascular endurance, and balance training.
- Exercise doesn’t necessarily require a gym and equipment. Movements that require lifting your own body weight — stair-climbing, push-ups (you can use ab rollers), planks, sit-ups, and leg lifts, for example — can be done almost anywhere. And a run or walk can be done on the beach, trail, or sidewalk … all for free!
- Vary the elements of your routine to not only tone all areas of your body but also to keep your workout fresh, which helps you move with attention and purpose and stay safer from injury.
- It’s often easier to work out with a buddy, so connect with fellow vets or friends and family. A run, swim, lifting session, or even a class can be more likely to happen if somebody’s counting on you to be there.
Customizing with special equipment
Wounded veterans might need adaptive equipment to help them stay fit. This specialized equipment helps improve balance, fitness, and coordination, whether users are exercising for general health or training for a competition.
- Fitness equipment like the Invictus Active Trainer is designed to give wheelchair users access to fitness techniques and resources tailored to their needs.
- Nonprofit organizations like the Catch a Lift Fund and Guardian for Heroes can help veterans in need with access to specialized exercise equipment, gym memberships, personalized fitness programs and a peer support network.
Connecting through competition
Competition can be a natural motivator and connector for active duty and veterans alike. Check out these opportunities:
- The Department of Defense Warrior Games is an adaptive sports competition that features hundreds of ill, wounded and injured vets. The Warrior Games showcase the resilient spirit of American veterans, and their families and caregivers.
- Local chapters of the Wounded Warriors Project sponsor competitions and events that offer vets with disabilities opportunities to connect, compete, and enjoy greater engagement in community life.
Staying in shape is important for everyone, but it’s even more critical for vets facing physical challenges. Using resources available online and community-based services in your area, you can transition back to civilian life with a job, a home, and an active lifestyle that puts fitness first.