Physical Activity, Exercise Physiology, Movement
Leveraging intersection of military and CrossFit cultural narratives to improve well-being of transitioning wounded veterans – a qualitative study.
(School of Public Health (UMD) Kinesiology Master's Student)
Transition from active duty to civilian life places extreme stress on veterans, which is amplified in injured veterans, many experiencing symptoms of PTSD including depression and anxiety. Research indicates people diagnosed with depression and anxiety who exercise two times per week experienced significantly fewer symptoms. The sense of belonging and group cohesion has also been shown to be protective against depression in service members. Studies looking at use of sport to aid in recovery of wounded veterans focus on sport opportunities provided away from the veteran’s home of residence and do not include development of long term group cohesion. Objectives. CrossFit claims over 13,000 gym affiliates worldwide that provide a cohesive fitness community locally and globally, but has not been studied as a site of recovery or transition for veterans. The purpose of this study is to explore how integration into community-based fitness classes enables transition from the military identity toward a healthy civilian identity for wounded veterans. In particular, we focus on the overlap of the military with the civilian CrossFit® culture as the site of transition. Approach. This study uses narrative inquiry to compare the cultural narratives of CrossFit and the military. We examined the journals of five injured veterans enrolled in a 6-month CrossFit program. Findings. Wounded veterans participating in this study reported increased quality of life, reduced anxiety, and increased sense of community as well as broader personal definitions of community. Conclusions. We found fitness and physical activity can be a tool to aid in military transition if the fitness culture is compatible with the military identity. Public Health Significance. There are persistent gaps in research related to military identity and transition. Further studies on military identity formation would inform interventions related to healthier transition from military culture to a civilian lifestyle. There is also the opportunity to better understand community-based fitness brands beyond CrossFit whose cultural narratives similarly overlap with the military one.