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UK flagship pioneers largest ever mental and physical health drive at sea

23 November 2023
Britain’s flagship pioneered a wide-ranging health and wellbeing initiative while operating in northern European waters with NATO allies and partners this autumn.

Everyone aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth was involved in the ‘Flagship Performance’ programme, probably the most comprehensive fitness/mental health and general wellbeing initiative ever devised on a Royal Navy warship.

All 1,000-plus members of the ship’s company received a hardback book compiled by the carrier’s Deputy Principal Medical Officer, Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Nathaniel Roocroft, outlining how to remain fit and healthy while aboard – supported both by a hectic programme of activities and events and, courtesy of the galley, plant-based high protein options at every meal.

Flagship Performance initiative is founded on six ‘pillars’: sleep, daylight (namely, get some), nutrition (eat well), movement (fitness), mindset and connection (mental health and general well-being).

To that end, more than 40 events, activities and drop-in sessions were organised on board weekly during the autumn deployment by ‘ambassadors’ – drawn not just from the carrier’s medical team and physical training instructors, but also the training management team and regular members of the ship’s company.

Keen weightlifter Able Seaman Francis Raptis, a member of Queen Elizabeth’s meteorological department, stepped forward to be an ambassador as “a big believer in the power of exercise”.

“No problem has been too formidable for me as long as the luxury of the gym is available,” he says. “No excuse has been too great so as to overpower my love and enthusiasm for stepping into the gym and pushing to be a better version of myself, not only physically though also in a psychological sense – as long as the mind is strong, the body is ready to cooperate and this perspective has been strengthened through exercise.”

Francis continued: “It can be difficult for a lot of people at sea, particularly when the deployment is lengthy and when there is the consideration of family affairs at home.

“Being a flagship performance ambassador gives me the opportunity to enable people on board who may feel lost and confused to realise the great power of exercise in boosting resilience and building a strong and determined outlook.”

Writer Andrew Pellatt said that “physical and mental health wellbeing should be a right for anyone, of any background,”

He worked with people with special needs before joining the RN and has used that experience and knowledge to help shipmates “who may not necessarily know who and where to go to”.

He’s convinced that by bringing shipmates – including embarked forces such as the carrier’s air group personnel – it made the collective ship’s company “physically and mentally robust for the challenges ahead”.

Being a flagship performance ambassador gives me the opportunity to enable people on board who may feel lost and confused to realise the great power of exercise in boosting resilience and building a strong and determined outlook.

Able Seaman Francis Raptis

And Able Seaman Adam Gater was keen to help his shipmates’ mental wellbeing, organising training classes to educate them on how to look after each other’s mental health.

He continued: “It is sometimes easier to talk to a close friend down the mess before going to sickbay. Therefore having better distributed training among the fleet could benefit anyone regardless of rank.”

Sporting/fitness activities offered included staples of RN keep fit, including circuits in the hangar, indoor rowing and spinning, through to judo and muay Thai (Thai boxing). In addition, to enhance inclusivity, dedicated female weightlifting sessions from beginners up to clean-and-jerk standard were introduced.

Well-being workshops to manage stress, develop practical skills such as mindfulness, understand unhelpful thinking habits and set wellbeing goals were held, Wim Hof breathing classes arranged to help with both sleep and relaxation, and healthy lifestyle drop-in sessions focusing on improving sleep, diet and mental health arranged.

A number of events were held to encourage social connection in a digital age, whilst allowing people to develop new skills or hone old ones.

Lessons were held in four different languages, sailors enjoyed chess clubs, debates, discussions of modern warfare theory, and had access to an extensive library.

Performance coaching was made available to the entire crew, and Chartered Management Institute accredited coaching courses were held for 60 people.

In all, some 300 sessions/activities were organised across the board – at no extra cost to the RN and all fitting around the carrier’s operational programme.

“We launched Flagship Performance using the mantra of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ to encourage ownership of physical and mental health, drive engagement with communal activity, and push an agenda of personal and professional development,” said Lieutenant Commander Oliver Hounslow, Training Management Officer.


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