A healthy lifestyle is about more than diet and exercise. You overall health is affected by a whole range of factors, from your working environment to the amount of alcohol you drink. Being mindful of these factors will help you optimise your overall health, making you a more effective soldier and greatly improving your chances of joining the Army.
Smoking damages the ability of the heart, lungs, and muscles to perform at their best. As a smoker, you may be less fit and may find it harder to pass entry tests into the Army. You are also more likely to get injured and will need longer to recover from illness or injuries.
The good news is that the effects of quitting smoking can be felt almost immediately. You will have more energy, will be able to breathe more easily, and feel less stressed – all of which improves your ability to train and work. If you are a smoker thinking of joining, consider seeking help from your doctor or NHS smoking cessation service.
Musculoskeletal injuries are injuries to your muscles, bones and joints. These types of injuries can take a long time to recover from and may seriously affect your chances of joining the Army. Prevention is better than cure, and you should avoid situations that put you at risk of injury wherever possible.
You are less likely to suffer a musculoskeletal injury if you use an appropriate training plan such as the Role Fitness Test (Entry) programme.
The Army takes the prevention of musculoskeletal injury seriously. We do this by making sure you have the right protective equipment, by constantly improving the quality of training facilities and instruction, and by promoting a healthy working environment.
The British Army operates in some of the most extreme environments on Earth – all of which present their own range of hazards. The Army's Environmental Health teams are responsible for identifying, assessing and advising on the control of all health threats faced by Army people, both in the UK and worldwide.
Poor oral health continues to affect the operational effectiveness of both Regular and Reserve personnel.
All regular serving personnel are registered with Defence Primary Healthcare Dental facilities and can be referred to secondary healthcare facilities when required. Reserves can access dental facilities when they are mobilised.
Families are able to access DPHC dental care when a service person is posted overseas.
Dental teams take a holistic approach to prevention that encompasses diet and lifestyle factors common to a range of oral and general diseases.
Dental problems are still one of the top five causes of non-battle injury. This impact can be reduced by timely and co-ordinated force preparation, a preventative approach to oral healthcare and by ensuring deployed dental teams are available to support exercises and operations.
Dental health is established and maintained through early intervention, education and long-term preventative care.
Commanders continue to actively support the delivery of oral healthcare and oral health improvement initiatives in order to improve attendance rates and promote good dietary habits and self-care.
Alcohol is a socially acceptable – but not essential – part of bonding and unit cohesion. The national downward trend of alcohol consumption is not yet reflected in the Army, and
excessive alcohol consumption continues to have a negative impact on health, wellbeing and professional effectiveness.
Even a small reduction in alcohol consumption can significantly benefit the health and wellbeing of our people. As a result, the Army has implemented strategies to use alcohol screening tools and to provide peer-level education and support. Alcohol Brief Interventions have also been introduced to promote organisational and personal behaviour change, and alcohol awareness education.
All Army people are encouraged to drink sensibly as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a major public health concern. If left undiagnosed and untreated, common STIs can cause a range of complications and long-term health problems.
The consistent and correct use of condoms can significantly reduce risk of STIs. Regular testing for STIs is essential for good sexual health. Everyone should have an annual STI screening, including a HIV test, if having unprotected sex with new or casual partners. In addition, anyone who is sexually active should be screened for chlamydia annually, and on change of sexual partner.
As a soldier, you can seek advice on STI screening from your nearest medical centre.
Support for Mental Health
In the Army, we take mental health and wellbeing seriously. We know that for elite athletes, the difference between winning and losing is often 'in the mind' – and the same goes for Army personnel. So, while we do lots to improve our physical health and fitness, with good nutrition and physical training, we also work hard to maintain our mental fitness.
It's important to have a healthy work-life balance and to understand how our mental health is affected by stress. Mental resilience – the ability to bounce back from difficult times – is a
skill that can be improved. That’s why we provide every Army person with specialised Mental Resilience Training that starts from basic training and continues throughout their career. Then there’s our OPSMART programme, which is all about improving our individual and team performance through increased awareness of our own and our mates' mental health and wellbeing.
How can we help?
We all experience tough times and periods of stress, and it’s perfectly normal to have ups and downs in our mental health. Army life is far from run-of-the-mill, but most of the stresses that affect us are actually the same as those that affect the civilian population: relationship difficulties, financial worries, unhealthy alcohol consumption, work-life balance, anxiety, depression and so on.
At the same time, Army life comes with its own unique challenges: deploying away from friends and family at home, getting used to new and unfamiliar environments, and the physical and mental strain of exercises and operations. That’s why we’re working hard to reduce the stigma around mental health and remove the barriers that prevent people from asking for help when they need it.
Regiments and units have specific teams to provide welfare support, while the Defence Medical Services network provides medical centres staffed by specialist mental health doctors and nurses. We also have Community Mental Health Teams for those with more severe mental health problems.