This is the first in a series of research briefs that look at the vitality, health, and productivity of a specific population included in the broader Cigna study, Vitality: The Next-Generation Health Measure.
There are approximately 18 million veterans in the United States. They represent diverse backgrounds, geographies and experiences, and nearly half (47%) are currently employed. Respect, leadership, dedication, and teamwork are just some of the qualities and experiences they bring to workplaces and communities. These characteristics, as well as their sacrifices, solidify their place in the fabric of American society.
Despite the challenges many veterans face, recent research from Cigna Corporation, which was fielded by Morning Consult, reveals that the veteran population is living with greater vitality than the general U.S. population. The report defines vitality as the ability to pursue life with health, strength, and energy, and found that the average vitality score for veterans is about 2 points higher than average (69.5 compared to 67.4). Additionally, almost 20% of veterans are experiencing high vitality levels, compared to 18% of all U.S. adults.
It’s critical to recognize that overall health and well-being is dynamic and multi-dimensional, comprised of more than just physical and mental health. By digging deeper into the characteristics of veterans living with high vitality, we can identify opportunities to help all veterans make improvements to their well-being so they can live life to the fullest.
Lessons From Veterans With High Vitality
Research identified several defining characteristics of veterans who report high vitality levels:
1. Commitment to good health practices
High-vitality veterans are more likely than low-vitality veterans to prioritize their physical health (87% vs. 5%) and to say that staying physically healthy is important to them (95% vs. 12%).
Veterans with high vitality are more likely to exercise more than five hours per week compared to those with high vitality in the general population (64% vs. 52%). Only 16% of veterans with low vitality and 18% of the general population with low vitality report the same amount of physical exercise.
High-vitality veterans are also much more likely to describe their health as “very good” or “excellent” than low-vitality veterans (76% vs. 13%).
2. Belief in themselves
Veterans with high vitality almost unanimously agree (99%) that they are satisfied with their lives. They are much more likely than low-vitality veterans to feel confident in their abilities to complete difficult tasks and to believe in their ability to achieve their goals.
High-vitality veterans report enjoying more autonomy and freedom compared to low-vitality veterans. They feel they have a choice in the activities they undertake (88% vs. 13%) and are more likely to say they are able to do the things that interest them (90% vs. 7%).
3. Health management
While veterans at all levels of vitality experience chronic health conditions, veterans with high vitality are more likely than those with low vitality to believe they can manage them (92% vs. 18%).
The reason may be that high-vitality veterans are more likely to feel they have the means to maintain good health. Almost all of those surveyed believe they have good medical care, compared to less than one-third of veterans with low vitality (96% vs. 29%). An equal percentage of high-vitality veterans (96%) say they have the skills and tools needed to live a healthy life, while only 7% of low-vitality veterans feel the same.
High-vitality veterans are more likely than those with low vitality to have a personal doctor or health care provider (93% vs. 73%) and feel their provider really listens to their concerns (92% vs. 40%).
How High Vitality Can Help Veterans
As vitality is both a driver and an outcome of health and work/life engagement, here are some of the benefits veterans can accrue by finding and maintaining high vitality:
1. Reduced likelihood of chronic conditions
While veterans overall tend to experience chronic conditions at higher levels than the general population (84% vs. 69%), veterans with high vitality are significantly less likely than veterans with low vitality to do so (75% vs. 91%). This is especially true for arthritis (20% vs. 37%), musculoskeletal conditions such as chronic low back pain and osteoarthritis (11% vs. 20%), and digestive disorders such as Crohn's disease and Celiac disease (7% vs. 18%).
They are also much less likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression or anxiety than veterans with low vitality (3% vs. 40%) and are less prone to having an alcohol or substance use disorder (1% vs. 11%).
Surprisingly, the prevalence of these behavioral health conditions among high-vitality veterans is lower than among high-vitality adults in the general population, where 7% report depression or anxiety and 2% report alcohol or substance use.
Even when living with a chronic conditions, veterans with high vitality are more likely to access specialized care and social support. Among veterans with at least one chronic condition, 94% of those with high vitality report seeing a specialist within the past year, vs. 80% of those with low vitality. Further, 90% of high-vitality veterans say they have supportive people in their lives who can help them manage their chronic conditions, compared to only 19% of low-vitality veterans.
2. Less loneliness and stronger sense of community
Veterans with high vitality are less likely to feel alone and more likely to feel accepted in their community. Only one in seven say they feel lonely, compared to four out of five with low vitality (14% vs. 81%). High-vitality veterans also have a lower rate of loneliness than those with high vitality in the general population (25%).
In addition, high-vitality veterans report they feel like they belong in their community (57%) and that they are treated fairly (65%), a higher rate than high-vitality adults overall (48% and 53%, respectively).
3. Greater resilience
Data shows that veterans have an increased capacity to meet and overcome challenges. This looks to be especially true of high-vitality veterans — 90% report that they are able to adapt when changes occur in their lives, 87% say they tend to bounce back after an illness/injury or hardship, and 89% can control how they react in times of stress, compared to only 12%, 7%, and 7% of veterans with low vitality.
While the benefits of high vitality for veterans are clear, 80% are living life with low to medium vitality. The challenges are exacerbated for those who identify as female or who are not working for pay.
Approximately 10% of veterans identify as female, and similar to women in the general population, these veterans have a lower average vitality score (66.3 vs. males at 70.2), are more likely to be lonely (56% vs. 35%) and report lower resilience (36% are highly resilient compared to 63% of males).
Unemployed veterans have an even greater vitality deficit compared to employed veterans (an average score of 54.7 vs. 71.6). They also have a greater chance of experiencing chronic conditions than veterans who work (97% vs. 73%), especially anxiety and depression (43% vs. 18%), and are less likely to feel they can manage those conditions (21% vs. 53%).
Vitality is a resource that every person possesses and is capable of strengthening. With this research, Cigna hopes to bring greater awareness to the benefits of vitality and the dimensions of health that contribute to it, so we can help veterans and their families live healthier, happier, and more productive lives while supporting their workplaces and communities. Forty percent of veterans surveyed said they would like to learn how to improve vitality, and 35% of low-vitality veterans strongly agree they need help to do so.
Read the Report: The State of Vitality in the United States
We used the Evernorth Vitality Index to survey more than 10,000 adults across the U.S. – the largest study ever done on vitality and health.
These findings are based on responses from 1,165 veterans who were among 10,000+ U.S. adults who participated in a nationwide survey commissioned by Cigna Corporation and conducted by Morning Consult, using the Evernorth Vitality Index, from May 17 to June 9, 2022.