Five Ways Exercise Can Aid Veterans Post-Deployment

The impacts of military deployments on a service member’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health can be impactful, especially when they return home. During deployments, lasting 6-12 months, the demands of the combat environment are challenging as Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen face dangerous situations, experience sleep deprivation, and oftentimes take on not so great eating habits due to the demands of the mission. The human body reacts differently under these conditions with the added stress of combat often leading to poor physical fitness, weight loss or gain and, other physiological responses to the demands of combat. The human body adapts to these changes, but it needs time and other activities post-deployment, such as exercise to help it recover from the experience.

Exercise is a great approach for military service veterans to use as a way to reintegrate into their community after they return home from their combat deployment(s). The psychological benefits of exercise are equally important as the physical benefits to build resiliency and improve your personal outlook on life, not to mention your relationship with your loved ones. They are counting on you, after you return home, as much as you are counting on them!

Improve Your Overall Mood

The physiological benefits of exercise occur through exertion while lifting weights, sprinting on a track, swimming laps in a pool or participating in a spin class. The release of endorphins and adrenaline is clinically proven to enhance your mood, as well as one’s self-confidence. An exercise routine is a great way to start the day or relieve the stress of the day before returning home after work. Simply, exercise sets your mood and your outlook, which in turns feeds how people respond to you and you to them. The medical community, as a prescription to improve quality of life and mood enhancement, is increasingly utilizing the benefits of exercise. It works as a means to self-medicate without the use of drugs.

Helps Keep You Mentally Sharp

Physical exercise is proven to improve brain function and memory, as well as wake you up, like a good shot of caffeine, to face the challenges ahead and deal with the stress of the past. Athletes, elite runners and competitors, and academics are always looking for the mental edge over their opponent or to focus while at work or studying. Routine exercise and physical exertion not only builds muscles but it also powers the brain through physiological and psychological changes.

Combat Depression

Routinely changing your environment and social interaction with others through exercise is a great way to combat depression. Exercise provides us an outlet from our routine, and interaction with others while working out, lifting weights, participating in a spin or yoga class or playing basketball are excellent ways to avoid feelings of isolation. Social interaction is important to one’s mental as well as physical health. While deployed or an active member of the military, routine was just that–routine. So now you need to challenge yourself to get back into a routine and interact with others and avoid long periods of isolation and loneliness that led to depression or even suicide.

Improve Sleep

Physical activity and exertion is beneficial to your overall sleep pattern as well. The long days during your deployment with minimal sleep, coupled by disrupted sleep patterns associated with combat environments, has your circadian rhythm desynchronized. The body is out of synch, but routine exercise and exertion upon returning from deployment can help a military veteran get back into an improved sleep pattern over time. The human body needs 6-8 hours of sleep each night–coupled with a solid sleep routine. People just sleep better when they are physically tired or exhausted. By exercising daily after you return home, you’ll want to go to sleep and get the rest you need to get after it again the next day.

Weight Control

An increase or decrease in one’s personal weight can impact a person in both a positive and negative way. Controlling one’s weight is important and exercise provides an excellent means to keep your body balanced. While exercise will increase metabolism levels, it also helps maintain a specific weight to optimize your daily performance and personal outlook to deal with the stressors of life. It’s important to maintain a healthy weight and avoid the pitfalls of overeating or unhealthy eating habits that complicate your overall health. If you put on a few pounds during your deployment, or your percentage of body fat increased, then exercise, coupled with good eating and sleep habits, provides military veterans a great way to take control of their health post-deployment.

Exercise and other activities are a great way to deal with post-deployment stress and your reintegration into society and with your family. The benefits of proper sleep, diet and personal outlook on life are all provided through exercise, sports and physical exertion after your return home.

It’s important to your health, as a military veteran, to take care of yourself, your family and friends as a productive member of society. Plus, you’ll want to look good and feel good in your uniform when they pin those well-deserved medals and ribbons on your chest. You and your family can take pride in your accomplishments, and even more so when the individual in uniform is home safely and is a better, stronger, more resilient spouse, parent and friend. You know, you can take time for yourself. You deserve it and they do, too.

You and your military comrades have committed yourselves to serving our country and defending America and its allies against the enemies of freedom. So take time to care for yourself with exercise and encourage your buddies to do the same. Don’t let being idle become the enemy. Learn how to cope with stress through exercise. It’s a great investment in yourself, and it will get you on the right track to fully recover from your deployment overseas–and taking care of your family and friends in the meantime. They are all counting on you!