Take Flight: How Community Supports Veteran Health and Wellness
Health and fitness experts from the Defense Health Agency and HomeBodySoul share the impact of friendships on physical health
Community isn’t typically the first word that comes to mind when developing a new workout, nutrition, or training plan. At Team RWB, the power of community and connection in veteran wellness is more apparent every day. Team RWB members and evidence-based research will tell you that being part of Eagle Nation has not only increased their sense of purpose but also improved their health.
Experts, including Captain Kimberly Elenberg DNP, MS Chief of Total Force Fitness at Defense Health Agency, and Meghan Meredith, founder of HomeBodySoul, agree that a sense of community is beneficial for veterans, service members, military families, and anyone working toward new health and fitness goals.
“By opening ourselves up to enjoying activities that support holistic wellness, we realize there is so much more to life than simply going to work and coming home,” said Capt. Elenberg.
Before jumping into a new club or workout routine, it’s important to set a realistic goal and identify a support system based on lifestyle. Though everyone has different motivations for eating healthy or maintaining fitness, knowing what your internal drivers are can make all the difference.
“Changing my perspective, setting a goal, and reaching out to others for support helps me to make healthier choices in terms of exercise. The goal doesn’t even have to be an organized race or event. It can be a simple, realistic goal that I can actually adapt my life around,” said Capt. Elenberg.
Being realistic about time constraints can also help decrease potential roadblocks in achieving those goals. Meghan Meredith recommends finding ways to include fitness into your everyday life, such as taking a regular evening walk, a weekend hike with the family, or making workouts part of your work schedule.
“Find a group of friends or co-workers who you can exercise with, before or after work. Having people to endure the “suck” with makes all the difference,” said Meghan Meredith.
Prioritizing Physical and Mental Health
Working out with friends, a club, or other Team RWB members offers a sense of encouragement and can lead to positive health impacts in both physical and mental health.
“Whenever we find ourselves actively participating in our communities where we live, we will see benefits across ALL domains of wellness,” said Capt. Elenberg. “When we exercise, we will see benefits across ALL domains of wellness. When we maintain our mental health, we will see benefits across ALL domains of wellness. And it goes on and on. Live life and thrive.”
In terms of mental health, Capt. Elenberg believes that being part of an active community can provide a sense of belonging and connectedness while offering an extra meaning, purpose and help to cope with painful emotions.
“A sense of belonging to a greater community improves your motivation, health, and happiness. When you see your connection to others, you know that all people struggle and have difficult times. You are not alone. There is comfort in that knowledge,” said Capt. Elenberg.
Finding Your Community
Whether you’re just starting your fitness journey, or if you’ve been Taking Flight with Eagle Nation since January 1, finding and getting involved in your community – both traditionally and virtually – can be key to helping you achieve the goals you’re working towards.
For an increasing number of service members and military families, that sense of community can come in an online or virtual format. For example, Capt. Elenberg referenced the #GotMySix campaign, which shines a spotlight on how social support from friends and loved ones can help you maintain total fitness.
“Sometimes just knowing someone is going to check in with you and ask how you are doing is enough motivation to keep you going and working towards your goals,” said Meghan Meredith.
“Many times, it’s not just one person who watches out for you. It might be neighbors, teachers, battle buddies, people from your religious community, or even your pets,” said Capt. Elenberg.
If you’re struggling to find the type of community you’re looking for or there isn’t a local Team RWB chapter nearby, Meghan Meredith recommends starting one on your own. Team RWB is always looking for committed volunteers to host events or start a chapter in their local area.
“If you can’t find a community out there that’s exactly what you’re looking for, you can always start one! For example, you could capitalize on the National Park Service offering free admission to all national parks for service members and start a hiking club for you and your friends,” said Capt. Elenberg.