Ask Stew: How to Stay Fit After Your Military Retirement

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Going from highly active job with required morning workouts, bi-annual fitness tests, to retirement can often lead to a quick and steady weight gain if you do not either continue the physical activity during retirement or learn how to eat like a person who does significantly less activity.

Here is a question written by a retired Army Colonel as I would expect a newly retired military officer to write – short, sweet, and concise:

Topic: How to keep physical fitness in retirement when you hit Fort Living Room?  Colonel Dan

Colonel, this is a great question. Far too many people who change jobs or retire seem to forget how active they were prior to retirement and still eat like a highly active person.  It does not take long for this error to yield a twenty-pound weight gain.  This can happen in as little as a year, in fact, it often does. So I think the first goal when you set up your new Fort is to make sure you tackle the food intake immediately.  It is more and more difficult to out-work your diet, in fact, when of retirement age it is nearly impossible.  So you have to hit your healthy weight and fitness from both ends: Calories IN and Calories OUT.

Here are some ideas for the Calories IN side of the equation:

Be Smart – There are many Weight Loss Myths out there that many have tried with mixed short term but horrible long term results.  If you are starting to gain weight, avoid these myths.

Eat Smart – Think about what goes into your body.  It does not take advanced education to realize the Ho-Ho’s and soda are going to wreck your calorie intake and provide very little nutrients.  Remember you have to eat for energy as it is not recommend to set up a permanent duty station in your Fort Living Room.

Make a Plan of what you eat each week will keep the discipline in your world that you may even miss in retirement.  After all, it is easy to work out for an hour a day, keeping poor food choices out of your mouth the other 23 hours requires the real motivation and discipline.

Get Out and Move to Get the Calories OUT:

The other half of the fitness and health equation is to keep moving.  This can be a large variety of movements and activities. 

1. Keep Moving - Any movement and calories out can come in the form of yard work, house chores, and other long term projects that keep you off the couch.
2. Exercise – Keeping a daily PT program in retirement is a must, but it does not have to be anything you use to hate about the military PT testing or standards.  Some people like to “be all you can” and still keep up with the Army PT Standards of running, pushups, situps.  I would recommend replacing situps with plank poses for a better core activity, but other calisthenics like pushups, dips, pullups are great additions to any PT program and can be easily done in the Fort Living Room.
3. Some form of cardio – Maybe by now, daily running has taken its toll on your knees or back.  Perhaps replacing running with bike, elliptical, or rowing machines or swimming will be something to ride into retirement.  If you still like to run, consider running every OTHER day and mixing in a non-impact options as above on the days in between running.
4. Stay Limber – If you sit too long during the day, you will start to ache. Get up and stretch.  Check out the Lowerback Plan for starters to stay limber and keep the core tight. But, consider yoga or other stretching and mobility programs to keep the joints working at full range of motion.
5. Get out of the house – Get to the gym and have access to pools, equipment, other fitness focused people.  Play sports like Pickleball, racquetball, tennis if you are into competition on moderate to low levels of challenge. Get hardcore if you wish and try weight lifting contests or races if your joints can still handle it.  The point is, have fun with your fitness and make it a way to be a social outlet as well

If you are looking for a beginning plan that has an exercise program that can be done in the home with very little equipment check out Beginner Fitness Plan with a free 45 day plan and a lean down food plan to get you started on some good habits.

Enjoy the new duty station!

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Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

Latest Fitness Books: Navy SEAL Weight Training and Tactical Fitness