Health and Fitness Tips for Disabled Veterans
This information is current as of May 3, 2022.
Having a disability doesn’t mean you’re confined to an unhealthy lifestyle. With the help of online and in-person resources, we’ve come up with the essential health and fitness tips for disabled veterans.
The first step to living a healthier life is stretching and moving. And, yes, this can be done even with most disabilities. In combination with the healthy living resources outlined below, disabled veterans can get on the path to a healthier future.
Let’s dive in!
Staying Healthy and Fit as a Vet
After military service, many veterans suffer from mental and physical disabilities, but that doesn’t mean veterans can’t enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle. In fact, staying active by stretching and exercising are proven to help conditions many veterans face, such as chronic pain, PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
In addition to physical exercise, there are plenty of resources for veterans looking to pursue a healthier lifestyle, which we will discuss here.
Before trying out any physical activity, always discuss your plan with your primary medical doctor to ensure it is safe for you to do so.
Stretching for Disabled Veterans
Stretching is ideal for anyone and is great to do before and after exercising. Stretches can be performed standing up, on the floor, or in a chair.
If you aren’t up to complete exercises yet, you can still get a good workout by stretching if you hold each stretch for 45-60 seconds. This has an isometric effect on your muscles, which means you can work and strengthen the muscle just by stretching it.
Stretching for the Neck and Shoulder
Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, evenly apart, and your back straight and strong to combat neck and shoulder pain.
First, gently lower your chin to your chest until you feel a stretch in the back of your neck. Then bring your head back up straight.
Next, bend your head to the right as if your right ear will touch your right shoulder. You should feel a nice, gentle stretch along the left of your neck. Bring your head back to the center slowly, and then do the left side. You can continue to do this stretch and hold if you like. Just be gentle.
Stretching for the Lower Back
A great, simple stretch for lower back pain starts by lying flat on your back on a comfortable surface. Pull both of your knees to your chest and gently hold. You may tilt your neck forward for a deeper stretch throughout your spine.
You can also relieve lower back pain in a chair by stretching your hamstrings. Seated, place one leg straight out on another chair in front of your body and reach towards your toes, and then switch legs.
Stretching with Yoga
Yoga is an excellent and gentle way to stretch your entire body. For a program specifically for veterans, click here. YouTube offers free yoga and stretching videos, as well. Click here for a gentle 12-minute chair yoga routine.
Exercises for Disabled Veterans
Exercising is one of the most important things anyone can do to make themselves feel better physically and mentally. Even going on a ten-minute walk outdoors can drastically change one’s mood for the better by releasing chemicals in the brain that promote happiness and well-being. Here are some more simple exercises many disabled veterans can do.
Most everyone knows how to do a push-up, but this can be challenging with specific injuries. For those with problems fully bending their wrists, why not use hexagonal dumbbells to relieve the wrists or do push-ups on your fists with a supportive towel underneath.
Bench Press Alternative
Instead of doing a full heavy bench press, you can lay on the floor on your back and use wrist weights or dumbbells to work out your chest, triceps, and shoulders. Try 8 presses with your weights at first for 3-4 reps.
You can also try rubber band push-ups if you have an exercise band. Simply wrap the band around your upper back, hold either end of the band, and push away from yourself using the same motion as a bench press or push-up. You can do this sitting or lying down 3-4 times.
To get a good triceps workout, you can use dumbbells or an elastic band sitting in a chair or standing. Put your hands over your head and bend your elbows so that your hands are behind your head. Do this motion 10-15 times for 3-4 sets.
You can also try triceps chair dips by lifting yourself out of your chair 10-15 times for 3-4 sets.
Ab and Back Workouts
Abdominal and back exercises can be done on the floor or in a chair and will help strengthen and stretch your back, relieving pain. While lying on your back on the ground, you can work on different parts of your abdomen.
First, lift your shoulders off the floor and flex your abs. You can also do a reverse crunch by lifting your hips off the floor with your legs bent in the air, or you can do a seated crunch by bending forward a few inches until your stomach muscles flex. For each of these crunch-style exercises, hold for 10 seconds and repeat 10 times.
A great way to work your lower back is to lay on the ground on your stomach. Place your arms out in front of you. Start by lifting your legs off the floor for 10-second intervals.
For more intensity, you can lift your arms and legs simultaneously. You can do this exercise in a chair by bending forward, taking your chest to your knees then using your lower back muscles to sit up again.
You can do a reverse push-up while sitting using a rubber band to work your upper back. Place the band around something sturdy. Pull with both hands until your elbows are past your shoulders. You should feel a flex in your upper back. Do this about 10 times.
Fitness Programs for Disabled Veterans
Although you can find many exercises and yoga routines on the internet, set programs are available specifically for disabled veterans. These programs are targeted at disabled veterans’ needs and offer a sense of community. Some great places to start are Gerofit, the Wounded Warrior Project, Home Base, and Fearless Fitness for disabled veterans.
Gerofit is an exercise program offered at 30 different VA Healthcare Systems around the U.S. that promotes health and wellness for veterans. Program participants have improved health, mental and physical function, and overall well-being through various strength and aerobic exercises.
Gerofit offers group classes such as balance, walking, tai chi, and dancing. All veterans who join this program are given a personalized exercise prescription and guidance by trained professionals such as nurses, physiologists, and physical therapists.
Healthy Lifestyle Resources for Disabled Veterans
Luckily, there are a lot of resources out there that target disabled veterans. These resources help with healthy lifestyle choices regarding stretching, exercising, and eating well.
One of the best resources is NCHPAD. NCHPAD compiles physical activity resources for veterans such as:
- Community competitions
- Sports teams you can join
- Adventure week programs
- VA exercise programs
- Wellness retreats
- Resources to be used in the comfort of your home
Operation We Are Here is another military community resource for health and wellness. Still, it also offers addiction treatment, cancer, chiropractic, dental, terminal illness, and hospice.
The VA offers a comprehensive guide on healthy living, including avoiding tobacco and alcohol, dietitian services, Chaplin service, peer support groups, and healing through art and meditation.
Military One Source is another excellent resource to help manage stress, develop healthy eating habits, and get in shape. They do not offer direct health care services but instead provide more holistic non-medical counseling and information.
Lifeline for Vets has compiled a list of resources that includes health and wellness, crisis, homelessness, employment, addiction, transportation, and social support.
DAV is a nonprofit that provides support to veterans and their families. The organization helps more than 1 million veterans each year. Vets can count on DAV to help them with everything from providing rides to medical appointments to helping connect them with employment.
Disabled veterans have risked a lot for others and paid the price through their health and well-being. Although eating nutritious foods and moving the body every day can help keep you fit, sometimes you need more. Thankfully, there are a lot of resources out there for disabled veterans to help them better take care of themselves and find a community and support.
Yoga videos and arm lifts while seated in a chair aren’t enough for some. Should you need more activity, consider joining a veteran sports team, talking to a trained counselor, attending art therapy sessions, or attending a wellness retreat.
With a supportive community in reach, brighter days are ahead. Thank you for your service!
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