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7 Simple Habits to Stay Healthy After Service

The good thing about the military is that it forces you to stay healthy in a lot of ways, both mental and physical. Regular PT keeps you in shape, and traits such as punctuality and organization are drilled into you from the minute you start Basic.

Many service members who leave active duty struggle with keeping that same discipline in their new life. They can find themselves quickly out of shape, and feeling lost without the familiar structure of the military to keep them in line.

The 7 daily habits listed below are all simple, effective ways to improve your health. The hardest part is getting started.

1. Wake up early

Awhile ago we did an article on Jocko Willink, the former Navy SEAL who still wakes up at 4:30AM every single day.  

Willink advises others to follow in his footsteps. Not necessarily to wake up at 4:30, but to wake up early at the same time every day. “If you want more freedom in your life, you have to have more discipline,” Willink said.

Waking up early increases the amount of productive hours in your day, and can also increase your sense of achievement. If you leave for work at 8AM, try waking up at 6. This gives you two hours of “free time” to start your morning peacefully.

Most people who want to get up early but don’t, are probably suffering from a lack of sleep.

2. Get consistent sleep

Sleep is the foundation for everything that happens in our day.

Our vigilance, reaction times, learning abilities, alertness, mood, coordination, short-term memory and more are all determined by the amount of sleep we get. Translation? Everything you do is affected by your sleep. reports that 25 percent of American adults get insufficient sleep on a regular basis. 11 percent have insufficient sleep every night.

50 million Americans suffer from over 80 different sleep disorders, including the 1 in 5 adults with sleep apnea. This all contributes to a growing number of work accidents and car crashes; drowsy driving is a factor in 20 percent of all serious motor vehicle injuries.

New research suggests that lack of sleep increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. It also severely compromises your immune system.

Bottom line? You should schedule in those eight hours of sleep.

3. Exercise every day

It’s not rocket science; exercise is good for us humans.

Thanks, Captain Obvious. But, seriously — even if you only get out for 10 minutes a day, it can have a major long-term impact on your health.

Without delving too deep, exercise helps you:

  • Feel happier
  • Lose weight
  • Increase muscle and bone health
  • Up your energy
  • Reduce risk of disease
  • Improve skin health
  • Increase brain health and memory
  • Sleep better and relax more
  • Reduce chronic pain
  • Boost sex drive

In short, regular exercise can improve not only your physical health, but your mental and emotional health as well.

As advised by Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, it’s best to work out before work. You’ll have more energy throughout the day, and more restful sleep at night. If you don’t have a ton of extra time, but you want to increase your fitness, try HIIT (high intensity interval training). These beginner workouts will never take you more than 30 minutes to complete.

Team sports and activities with your friends are a fun way to incorporate daily exercise as well. Look into local basketball or football teams, or even start one with some buddies. And, if your problem is motivation, just start somewhere. Go for a walk or a scenic bike ride. The act of starting is more important than the actual action.

4. Eat more veggies

Are you channeling the voice of your long-exasperated mom right now?

To really take charge of your health, you need to incorporate vegetables in your diet. Veggies are loaded with fiber, nutrients, antioxidants, and even protein. These are all essential for bodily function. Cartenoids in red, yellow and orange vegetables will literally make your skin glow — in fact, vegetables can protect you from both premature aging and damaging UV rays.

Fiber makes you poop. It’s the truth. And it’s not uncommon for you to pack on five to 20 pounds just in feces. Upping your digestive health decreases your risk of colon cancer and flushes your body of dangerous toxins.

Dark green veggies like broccoli, collard greens and kale are all high in protein, and also known cancer-fighters. Their antioxidants reduce inflammation and the free radicals that lead to cancer cell growth.

Despite the countless other benefits, some people are just not that into vegetables, and that’s okay! Try juicing your veggies, putting them in smoothies to mask the flavor, or making little “snack packs” that include things like carrots and celery to eat for lunch.

You can also add them into your favorite meals; layer them in lasagna, spaghetti, soup, or even mac and cheese. You don’t have to live off salad to reap the rewards.

5. Meditate (or try this alternative)

Meditating has many proven health benefits. It is commonly used to relax and reduce stress, but it helps a lot of other things too.

In our article on ways to treat PTSD naturally, meditation has been shown to help 84% of practicers with PTSD reduce or stop relying on medication to manage their symptoms. It can improve mental health and quality of life for those willing to give it a try.

Many people meditate to manage these conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Sleep problems
  • Tension headaches

If you want to give it a go, you can start by downloading a meditation app on your phone. Apps like “Waking Up” by Sam Harris are great for beginners to learn techniques that will help with their meditation.

If meditation isn’t your cup of tea, simply set aside a bit of free time. The purpose is to stop thinking about work or obligations. Instead, work on a passion project (something you love). It can be painting, music, mechanical work. Something that gets you into a groove where you forget everything else around you.

You can also just sit for 10 to 30 minutes. Do a crossword, listen to soft music or even take a nap. In our busy lives, there needs to be time for calm.

6. Keep a journal

Writing things down gets ideas, thoughts and concerns out of our heads in a more organized format. It can even be described as therapeutic.

Daily, or regular, journaling promotes creativity, increases focus, and improves cognitive functioning.

Writing things down has been used as a problem-solving tool for centuries, and is still used in today’s classrooms with techniques like mind maps and venn diagrams. At the very least, almost everyone has made a pros and cons list before a big decision.

Journaling may also help bring your goals to fruition. Our article on goal-setting talks about the importance of specifying your goals in order to be successful.

What better way than mapping them out with pen and paper?

7. Build routine

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit.

Well, a recent study measured the average at 66 days — with a lot of variation in between! It took subjects anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form these habits. That tells us that habits are easier to build for some people than others. In any case, we all have them; even if your only habit is to brush your teeth twice a day (a good one to have).

A series of habits performed every day can be classified as a routine. Many people have set morning or night routines, from which they never deviate. The military, for example, has a very routine-based culture.

Following a daily routine is shown to have a positive impact on our lives. The structure and consistency allows you to develop a sense of ownership over your life, and reduce the time you waste on a day-to-day basis.

Most of us are “creatures of habit” — we like familiarity, and we are resistant to change. While change is not an inherently bad thing, it’s good to have a system of healthy habits to fall back on.

If you don’t already have one, create a morning/night routine (or both) that is made up of healthy habits. They can include some of the tips already listed here, or something unique to you.

Ask yourself: what are three things I can do every day to increase my quality of life?

You’ll be surprised by how much these simple habits help you stay healthy after you leave the military.

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