Is There an Association between Healthy Behaviours and Being Physically & Mentally Stronger?

Research Paper Title

Mental health, physical health, and health-related behaviours of US Army Special Forces.


To prospectively examine the health and health-related behaviours of Army Special Forces personnel in comparison with two distinct, but functionally similar Army groups.


Special Forces, Ranger Qualified, and General Purposes Forces enrolled in the Millennium Cohort Study were identified using data from the Defence Manpower Data Centre. Using prospective survey data (2001-2014), the researchers estimated the association of Army specialisation with mental health, social support, physical health, and health-related behaviours with multivariable regression models.


Among the 5,392 eligible participants (84.4% General Purposes Forces, 10.0% Special Forces, 5.6% Ranger Qualified), Special Forces personnel reported the lowest prevalence of mental disorders, physical health problems, and unhealthy behaviours.

In the multivariable models, Special Forces personnel were less likely to report mental health problems, multiple somatic symptoms, and unhealthy behaviours compared with General Purpose Forces infantrymen (odds ratios [OR]: 0.20-0.54, p-values < .01).

Overall, Special Forces personnel were similar in terms of mental and physical health compared with Ranger Qualified infantrymen, but were less likely to sleep < 5 hours/night (OR: 0.60, 95% confidence intervals: 0.40, 0.92) and have 5 or more multiple somatic symptoms (OR: 0.69, 95% CI: 0.49, 0.98).

Both Special Forces personnel and Ranger Qualified infantrymen engaged in more healthy behaviours compared with General Purpose Forces infantrymen (OR: 2.57-6.22, p-values<0.05). Engagement in more healthy behaviours reduced the odds of subsequent adverse health outcomes, regardless of specialisation.


Army Special Forces personnel were found to be mentally and physically healthier than General Purpose Forces infantrymen, which may in part be due to their tendency to engage in healthy behaviours.

Findings indicate that engagement in a greater number of healthy behaviours may reduce odds for subsequent adverse outcomes.


Cooper, A.D., Warner, S.G., Rivera, A.C., Rull, R.P., Adler, A.B., Faix, D.J., Neff, R., Deagle, E.A., Caserta, R.J., LeardMann, C.A. & Millennium Cohort Study Team. (2020) Mental health, physical health, and health-related behaviors of U.S. Army Special Forces. PLoS One. 15(6):e0233560. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0233560. eCollection 2020.


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