For the past 76 years, the World Health Organisation has been recognising one of the most critical aspects of being human – our health. World Health Day is celebrated on 7th April every year, with annual themes that put some of the key issues in the spotlight – from heart health to infectious diseases, safe hospitals to supporting health care workers, and healthy cities to universal health coverage. The theme for 2024 focuses on health as one of the key human rights recognised by 140 countries through the WHO Council on the Economics of Health for All.

This year’s theme exists in a time when conflict and natural disasters are in the news every day. Global events such as wars in Syria, Ukraine and Gaza and the catastrophic earthquakes in Japan and Taiwan this year offer ongoing reflection for veterans, whose lives were dedicated to supporting humanity through times of unrest, upheaval and uncertainty.   

Aside from these events presenting potential triggers for veterans, they are also a reminder of the fragility of human life and how important it is to take care of ourselves in the time we have. Maintaining good mental health and wellness can be challenging for all of us, but particularly for veterans. While serving, life is busy, structured, and filled with routine, responsibilities, activity, and collegiality. At its heights, it can be packed with adventure and bravery along with acts of extreme endurance. Life after service can look very different however and the ongoing maintenance of physical and mental health is often difficult to replicate as veterans transition into civilian life. But finding the new normal is critical and also possible! 

Regular activity

Taking care of your physical health doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym every day or pound the pavement rain, hail, or shine. The key is regular activity that keeps your body moving and active. There are literally hundreds of activities that can help you do this including weekly essentials like walking the dog or going to the shops, gardening, and cleaning the house; to those with more of a fitness focus such as stretching, swimming, cycling, yoga, exercise classes, or weight training. Putting together a combination of the things you need to do that require physical effort. and the things you like to do will ensure an active and engaged daily routine, keep the blood flowing, and regularly get you out into the fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine.       

Sleep and nutrition 

Keeping your body nourished and getting the rest it needs are also critical parts of good mental and physical health and wellbeing. A nutritious diet doesn’t need to be complicated, and it should be customised to your tastes, skills, and budget. A couple of meals a day, or regular snacks and plenty of water are the foundation of healthy eating habits and should give you the sustenance you need for the level of activity you’re engaging in. A balanced diet is also the partner to a good sleep routine, giving your body nutrients and essential vitamins and minerals it needs to maintain sleep and rest cycles. Anything less than 4 hours sleep a day is considered lack of sleep but many veterans struggle with sleep disorders, so take the pressure off and get the sleep you need when you can. It doesn’t have to be confined to 8 hours in bed – a few hours overnight combined with some naps, rest times or meditation through the day are just as good.  

Social engagement

Social isolation can be one of the most destructive parts of life after service. The veteran community can be extremely supportive and staying connected to those who’ve shared similar life experiences to you can be a great comfort. With so much more time on your hands, reaching out to others will help fill the calendar with events and activities and keep your mind, body, and spirit active and engaged. Building connections and forming attachments to others in civilian life is essential so spend time with friends and loved ones when you can – even if it’s just a phone call or a daily game online. 

A dedicated health care team

It may be that a life of service has left you fit and well maintained, however that’s not always the case so pull together a dedicated health care team to help you manage your physical health if you need it. This could be as simple as a good GP you see every few months, or as comprehensive as GPs, psychologists, dieticians, physiotherapists, and pharmacists. Getting regular health checks keeps you in touch with your body and mind and helps detect any potential issues early. Having a team of people who know your history and travel your health care journey with you is invaluable and if they can also be connected to each other to work together towards optimum health for you even better!   

If Carry On can assist in any way in supporting you or helping you get any of these critical elements in place, please reach out to us. If you are a veteran, know a veteran or are the family member of a veteran who is going through difficulties, you can contact the Australian Government’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs for assistance or contact us at Carry On and we can point you in the right direction.