Military Life Resources Fitness

Staying active as a veteran injured in combat

wounded veterans
U.S. Air Force athletes shake hands with members of the Army team after a seated volleyball match Sept. 28, 2014, at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo Tim Chacon)

During your time in the service, you were likely at the peak of your physical game. With daily training and consistent activity, you probably didn’t have to worry about staying in shape. However, as a veteran injured in combat, it can be really challenging to rediscover ways to stay active. Some of the activities you once enjoyed, like running or weightlifting, might not be as accessible as they once were if you have physical limitations. 

That can take a toll on both your physical and mental well-being. 

However, dealing with an injury doesn’t mean you have to give up staying active entirely. With a bit of creativity and the desire to keep working hard, you can stay active as an injured veteran, maintain your physical and mental health, and inspire others to do the same. 

Adapting to Your Needs

Obviously, not all injuries are the same. What’s most important is that you find ways to adapt to your injury so you can stay physically active no matter your situation. 

wounded veterans games
Air Force athlete Keith Sekora (right) shares a laugh with a fellow competitor during the archery portion of the 2014 Warrior Games, at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct. 1, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justyn M. Freeman/ Released)

For example, if you’re in a wheelchair, there are more opportunities to stay active than you might think. Some of the best exercises you can do in a wheelchair include: 

  • Resistance and strength training
  • Seated cardio
  • Getting outside on wheelchair paths (a great arm workout!)

Chances are, you’ve witnessed wheelchair sports before, too. If you’re passionate about something like basketball, volleyball, or even golf, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy playing them from your chair. 

Many communities even have local sports organizations specifically for people in wheelchairs. Not only is it a great way to stay active, but it provides an opportunity to connect with others. It’s not uncommon for veterans to struggle with loneliness and isolation, which can wreak havoc on mental health. Surrounding yourself with a supportive community of like-minded individuals can be a great way to fight back against depression and stress. 

Even if you’re not in a wheelchair, the same principles apply. Maybe you lost an arm in the service or experienced a severe shoulder injury that left you with limited mobility. Finding ways to adapt to workouts and/or sports will boost your confidence and improve your outlook. 

veteran bicycle
Air Force athlete Chris Aguillera participates in a cycling race during the 2014 Warrior Games, Fort Carson, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo Tim Chacon)

Getting Outside

There are countless physical activities that can be done outside. Not only will spending more time in nature improve your physical health, but it can boost your mental well-being by: 

  • Reducing stress
  • Improving heart health
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Boosting your mood

Whether it’s casually walking around the neighborhood, using a modified bicycle to hit the trails, re-learning how to swim with an injury, or even taking a yoga class to feel more connected with your body, spending time outdoors is a fantastic way to stay fit and find happiness. 

You can take things one step further by combining outdoor physical activity with the healing power of animals. Equine therapy has grown in popularity for a reason. It’s been shown to boost self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and serve as a form of therapy for those struggling with their mental health. Horseback riding is a fantastic way to spend time outdoors, relax, and stay active. Para-dressage horses are equipped with specialized equipment, allowing the rider to communicate with them more easily. So, even if you’ve never ridden a horse, don’t let your injuries or “limitations” stop you from giving it a try. 

Air Force athlete Daniel Crane (left) congratulates a fellow competitor during the archery portion of the 2014 Warrior Games at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct. 1, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justyn M. Freeman/ Released)

Inspiring Others in the Veteran Community

As a veteran, you likely know some of the grim statistics facing the community. Veteran suicide rates remain high. Mental health issues are prominent. Some vets simply struggle with adjusting to civilian life or finding their purpose once again. 

Staying physically active can help. Exercise is a natural mood booster and a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. However, within the veteran community, finding others to share those experiences with can make an even bigger difference. 

Consider joining an organization or utilizing resources like the Wounded Warrior Project to help you connect with other veterans and people who want to help and support those who have served our country. Sometimes, something as simple as working out together can make a big difference in the mental well-being of a group of vets. You never know who you’ll inspire while benefiting from a great workout, yourself. 

Can it be disheartening to overcome an injury and have to re-learn how to do things that once seemed so easy? Absolutely. However, by pushing forward and staying active, you’ll not only feel better physically, but you’ll give your mental health a boost, too. Don’t let your physical limitations hold you back from the life you deserve. 

Use some of these ideas to get started, or consider the physical activities you most enjoy, and find ways to adapt them to fit your needs. You might need to do things a little differently than before, but when you find a physical activity you love, you’ll be more likely to stick with it, and stay motivated as you find ways to reach your goals and overcome obstacles.