Soldier On’s March On challenge has returned for 2021. The March On challenge is a virtual walking challenge established to raise funds to help prevent veteran suicide. It pays tribute to the sacrifices made by Allied soldiers in Kokoda, New Guinea during World War II. The march highlights the importance of assisting and honouring current serving military members and veterans. The March On challenge has raised more than $1 million, with over 6,000 participants having already completed a combined 60,000km in the campaign’s first week alone. The campaign not only provides vital funds for Soldier On, but also provides a myriad of mental health benefits to its participants. These can include an increased sense of belonging, a sense of social and community engagement, and increased sense of positivity, accomplishment, and overall quality of life.
The benefits that physical exercise can have on mental health and quality of life is well founded, but collective exercise, especially that completed as part of charitable or volunteer work, have their own unique benefits. Studies have shown that participants in activities such as March On felt an increased sense of belonging, community, and acceptance as well as a sense of achievement and accomplishment greater than in individual exercise. Additionally, participants in activities such as March On reported a strong sense of both investing in, and benefiting from, belonging to a greater community. This culminates in not only a sense of physical achievement, but also increased confidence and self-worth . In this sense, engagement in an activity like March On not only benefits our physical and psychological self, but also satisfies our natural need for social and community engagement.
Group exercise, especially group exercise for a charitable purpose, forges hope and optimism among its participants – making insurmountable obstacles seem far less daunting. Individuals working together for a collective purpose, such as addressing veteran suicide, feel an increased sense of purpose and validation through shared values between participants. Psychologists use the term “muscular-bonding” to describe collective physical effort utilised for a united purpose. It helps remind us we are not alone, and we share a collective struggle.
Essentially, a communal issue such as veteran suicide requires a communal effort. Through March On, participants have the opportunity to exercise collectively, but also have the chance to engage socially and be a part of a collective effort to assist veterans. Not only do the increased levels of endorphins released during collective exercise help participants run, march, or trek for longer – the sense of collective purpose towards a good cause, the “muscular-bonding”, further helps elevate an individual beyond their normal means and more capable of tackling an issue as important as veteran suicide.
 Morris, P., & Scott, H. (2018). Not just a run in the park: A qualitative exploration of parkrun and mental health. Advances in Mental Health, 17(2), 110-123. doi:10.1080/18387357.2018.1509011
 MCGONIGAL, K. (2021). JOY OF MOVEMENT: How exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage. S.l.: AVERY PUB GROUP.