GRF CoverGovernment Recreation & Fitness


November 2012
The Mind-Body Connection ...

The motto, “You are what you eat,” is firmly positioned in the national vernacular, as evidence to its veracity is considerable, and experts continue to make the connection between a good diet and healthy living. And although medical, health and fitness professionals in the military — and outside the gate — understand the importance of physical conditioning and diet in the fitness equation, they have just recently begun to look at the important role the mind plays in the overall formula for good health.

As John Milton wrote in “Paradise Lost,” “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” No line is more relevant today, as the importance of the mind-body connection in overall health and fitness is gaining attention throughout the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA), becoming a critical area that can't be overlooked.

Whether it is service members preparing for deployment, carrying out a mission downrange, or trying to heal and get back to normal once they return home, being physically fit is only part of the equation, and ignoring the mental aspects of fitness could prove to be disastrous.

This is why military fitness leaders have embraced the DoD concept of Total Force Fitness, which directs services to provide comprehensive, wide-reaching programs that aim to assess, evaluate, strengthen and monitor all of the aspects of wellness — physical, psychological, social and family — in an effort to help service members and their loved ones to become more resilient, both physically and mentally.

And over the past few years, Armed Forces fitness leaders have introduced a new paradigm for what constitutes mission-ready, one that includes mind-body programs that are founded on the principle that psychological strength, like physical strength, does not just happen — it must be developed, trained and refined.

Renee Champagne, who hosts the Health Living show on the Armed Forces Network (AFN), Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she is stationed with her husband, has benefited greatly from mind-body programming, helping her deal with and start to overcome the crippling symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Physically, we take care of ourselves in the military, but emotionally we don't, which down the road can lead to all kinds of problems,” she notes. “So it is vitally important that we take care of our mind and body, and there are so many people — spouses, veterans and active duty — who want, and can benefit greatly from, these alternative methods for healing.”

As Champagne points out, we are just beginning to tap into the powers of these mind-body programs to strengthen, build resiliency and heal, which is why it is so heartening to see DoD and VA officials getting behind the whole-body fitness movement.

Today, military wellness centers, which are run by trained medical and fitness professionals, are providing preventive therapy, guidance and support to help people understand all of the factors that influence their health, as well as creating a plan moving forward for those who are struggling with weight or other health issues.

And VA facilities are expanding what is available to veterans in the area of mind-body programming and therapies, such as yoga, tai chi and meditation-based programs and protocols that help many active duty and veterans cope with traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and depression.

“In our pain management program, and in our physical medicine and rehabilitation departments, we try to stress non-medicine-type programs, so that patients understand what is wrong with them, and they can do exercises and use modalities that can help them heal without getting addicted to pain medication, for example,” notes Dr. Frederick Struthers, chief of the Physical Medicine/Rehabilitation department, at the James E. Van Zandt VA Medical Center in Altoona, Pa.

As he points out, we have entered a new era in medicine, one that has the potential to positively impact the lives of countless people. Service members, veterans and their families are in the vanguard of this movement, as they should be. They deserve no less.