Post-Service Nutrition and Fitness Tips
Practicing strong self-care does not always come easy to those who have dedicated themselves to service. Staying active and eating well keeps the body functioning at a high level. Getting adequate sleep and relaxation is a good health principle that modern society tends to disvalue. Though injuries may interfere with self-care, it is still important to do what you can each day to maintain or improve overall health. However good your intentions, without setting goals, it is difficult to improve your health standing.
Health and fitness goals tend to take off with a bang, but enthusiasm often dies a few weeks later. Meeting goals is less about willpower and more about setting realistic expectations to begin with. When beginning a fitness program after an injury, planning to run for an hour each day is not a realistic goal. It is better to walk briskly for 20 minutes and add a minute each day. A month later, you may be able to increase your time and speed.
Setting goals is like creating a road map for where you want to end up. No matter the goal, veterans can benefit from writing it down and setting concrete ways for measuring success.
Nutrition and Meal Planning
Eating better happens when clear goals are outlined daily. Many people feel deprived if they cut all sugar or carbs from their diet at once. A militaristic approach may suit some, but most people respond better to gradual behavioral shifts. Begin by adding, not taking away. For example, set a goal of eating at least one raw fruit or vegetable with every meal. Your body will eventually crave what you feed it. Also, by slowly integrating healthier foods, this eliminates unhealthy cravings over time.
Veterans often find that they need to take in fewer calories after leaving the service to avoid gaining excess weight. The FDA's basic nutrition guidelines are based on an adult eating 2,000 calories daily. Though calorie needs vary greatly from person to person, adults should aim to consume the following:
- 2 cups of fruit
- 2 ½ cups of vegetables
- 6 1-ounce equivalent servings of whole grains
- 3 1-cup equivalent servings of low-fat dairy
- 6 ounces of lean meat or plant-based protein equivalents
- 27 grams (5.5 teaspoons) of healthy oils
- Up to 258 calories in solid fats or added sugars (chocolate and other treats fall into this category)
- No more than 2,300 mg of salt (1 teaspoon)
Veterans can get help creating a personalized nutrition program by making an appointment with a nutritionist at their local VA medical center.
According to the American Heart Association, adequate fluid intake helps the heart pump blood more effectively. In turn, blood travels through the body more easily and helps muscles work more efficiently.
Some people find that as they age, their sense of thirst decreases. Thirst is an unreliable measure of the body's hydration level. Urine color provides a visual scale that accurately reflects hydration. Pale, clear urine indicates sufficient fluid intake while darker urine is a sign to drink more water.
All fluids can count toward daily intake, but water is best. Though the standard advice has long been to drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day, take in the amount your body needs to maintain pale, nearly clear urine.
Rest and Rehabilitation
Veterans can leave the service requiring extended rehabilitation to relieve any number of service-related conditions. Those who adhere closely to the treatment plans outlined by physicians and therapists usually meet their rehab goals quicker than those who take a more relaxed approach to therapy.
All veterans can benefit from getting enough rest and relaxation. The Centers for Disease Control states that sleeping less than seven hours per night is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Chronic exhaustion also impairs fine and gross motor skills and can lead to an increase in depression and other mental health disorders.
Sleep better by setting a goal to wake up and go to bed at the same time each day - even on weekends. Keep bedrooms dark, cool and quiet. Avoid watching TV and playing on smartphones in bed, as the light exposure interferes with the brain's natural sleep signals. Exercise early in the day. Also, relaxing physical activity, such as stretching or yoga, not only improves mental and physical function but also helps condition the body to rest well at night.