Physical activity and better social skills reduce the risk of permanent and temporary exemption from military service

Researchers of University of Oulu and ODL Department of Sports and Exercise Medicine investigated the relationship between meeting the recommended amount of physical activity and the social and language difficulties of young men and their fitness for military service. According to the study, meeting the recommended amount of physical activity and better perceived fitness were associated with a lower risk of permanent and temporary exemption from military service. Weaker social skills were linked to lower physical activity and poorer perceived fitness.

The study involved 2,614 young men who participated in the 2014 military fitness call-up in the regions of Northern Ostrobothnia, Kainuu, Lapland, and Upper Lapland. At the call-up, the men responded to a questionnaire that assessed factors related to health, physical activity, and language development. Based on their responses, the men were divided into two groups: those who met the WHO's recommended amount of physical activity for health and those who did not.

The social and language skills of the men were assessed by questions regarding their difficulties in understanding humor, participating in group discussions, or engaging in one-on-one conversations.

"Our results highlight the importance of physical activity and social skills for succeeding in military service", says Jan Silvala, a doctoral researcher at the University of Oulu. "We also found that meeting the recommended amount of physical activity, together with adequate social and language skills, may lower the likelihood of permanent or temporary exemption even more than these factors alone."

"About one-fifth of men determined as fit for service presented difficulties in social and language skills. In our previous study (Silvala et al., in press), we demonstrated that weaker social and language skills are associated with permanent or temporary exemption from the military service", Silvala adds.

Previous studies have also found that poor fitness, low physical education grades in primary school, and low physical activity predict discharge from the military service. However, the association between social and language skills, and physical activity or military fitness has not been examined before.

Regular exercise is known to be associated with fewer social problems and better language skills. According to Silvala, encouraging regular physical activity may be one strategy to improve the social and language skills of boys and young men.

The study is part of the " Young Men in the North" project, which focuses on the physical and mental health of young men. The aim of this project is to identify factors that support succeeding in the military service.

Research publication: Silvala, J., Hurtig, T., Yliherva, A., et al. Physical activity, social-communicative skills, and fitness for military service. BMJ Mil Health. Published Online First: October 5, 2023. doi: 10.1136/military-2023-002498

Link to the research publication

Last updated: 1.11.2023