Physical Activity and Military Readiness

Physical inactivity impacts national security

The military sector plays an important role in increasing levels of physical activity for service members, military families, veterans, and Department of Defense civilians working and living on and off military bases.

The nation’s armed forces depend on men and women who are fit, healthy, and able to perform at their peak on or off the battlefield. However, only 2 in 5 young adults are weight-eligible and physically prepared for basic training. Recruits who are not physically prepared are less likely to complete basic training because of injuries and other fitness-related issues compared to physically prepared candidates.

Military families may live on or near base. Reserve members live in communities throughout the country. Supportive community design on bases and in surrounding communities can improve the ability of service members, military families, veterans, and Department of Defense civilians to be physically active regularly.

Participating in physical activity can improve service members’ mental and physical health. Benefits include improved sleep; decreased risk of depression and anxiety; decreased risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure; and reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Being physically active can also help military families cope with service members’ training and deployments and veterans as they transition back to civilian life.

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What Can Be Done

The federal government is:

Military father holding his daughter's hand on  walk.
  • Providing tools and resources to encourage community and base design [PDF-585KB] for physical activity by incorporating activity-friendly routes (including sidewalks, bike lanes, and public transit) that connect to key destinations (such as housing, food outlets, and parks). These routes should easily connect the places where people live to the places where they need and want to go regularly.
  • Improving total force fitness by connecting eight dimensions of fitness, including physical fitness, to optimize health, performance, and readiness holistically.

State and local officials can:

  • Increase awareness of existing community resources, programs, and partnerships that address cost and accessibility challenges to increase participation in physical activity programs.
  • Show support for creating activity-friendly communities.  Download: Proclamation Template [Word-29KB]

Transportation engineers and community planning professionals can:

  • Collaborate with other sectors to design communities off base that support a safe, comfortable, and accessible network of activity-friendly routes that connect to convenient and well-designed community locations.
  • Work closely with multiple community leaders during the project planning and design process to ensure that safety, access, and design decisions match local community needs. Involve base planners, local community planning and transportation leaders, service members, their families, veterans, and Department of Defense civilians. Participation in strategic and community workgroups is important to ensure military interests are being represented.

Community organizations can:

  • Develop and promote community-based physical activity programs such as group classes and walking groups to increase social connectedness and social supports for physical activity. Encourage service members, military families, and veterans to attend. Tailor activities as appropriate.
  • Share the locations of parks, trails, greenways, and other places where people can be physically active.

Every sector can:

  • Encourage people, including those in the military, to meet the national physical activity guidelines and recommend ways to add more physical activity to their day. There are many ways to be physically active outside the gym—like gardening, taking a walk, running in a park, biking to the store, or doing household chores.
  • Promote the physical and mental health benefits of regular physical activity. This information is especially important in settings or communities where people have trouble being physically active and for service members and veterans who have anxiety or depression.


For Military Support Staff

  • Chronic Diseases and Military Readiness
    Illustrates how preventing and controlling chronic diseases is a matter of national security and how promoting more physical activity and better nutrition can help.
  • Building Healthy Military Communities Toolkit
    Provides strategies for Department of Defense service providers and other community organizations to work with public health and related agencies to build healthy, physically active communities.
  • Unfit to Serve
    Outlines the effects of obesity on military readiness in the United States. It also emphasizes the many health and performance benefits increased physical activity can offer to current and future service members.

For Service Members, Families, Reserve Members, and Veterans

  • Total Force Fitness-Physical Fitness
    Explains why physical fitness is important as part of eight dimensions of fitness to optimize health, performance, and readiness.Total Force Fitness focuses holistically on a service member’s entire health throughout their career.

Get Active

Want more proven ways to increase physical activity?
Active People, Healthy Nation has many strategies that work. Visit the website to find options that fit your needs. Look for ways to collaborate with other sectors.

  • Armed Services YMCA
    Provides free or low-cost programs and services for service members, military children, spouses, and families.
  • Health and Wellness Coach
    Offers free consultations for health and wellness coaching for active-duty service members, the National Guard, reserve members, and their immediate family and survivors.
  • MOVE! Weight Management Program
    Provides healthy eating and physical activity tips supported by the Veteran Affairs’ National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
  • Move Your Way
    Highlights tools, videos, and fact sheets with tips that make it easier to get a little more active.

Parks and Greenspaces

  • ParkPassport Mobile App
    Connects users to national parks and recreation and areas. It provides education information and contains a digital passport to collect custom badges for the 63 national parks.
Connect with Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity