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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Financial incentives and fitness goals

Filed under: Finances, Fitness, Goals
Money is a strong motivator, but can it help you exercise more?

It’s tax season, and finances are on your mind. Financial planning is important and it might help you stay on track with your fitness goals. What motivates you to exercise? Maybe it’s your New Year’s resolution, or you’re training for an upcoming event. The key is finding what works for you, so that you maintain a regular exercise routine.

For many, money can be a strong motivator for maintaining their exercise behaviors. You pay for gym memberships, fitness classes, and fancy exercise equipment—but is spending money a good way to stay motivated?

In general, people often are motivated by immediate gratification (versus being rewarded later) and by losses, rather than gains. Some research suggests that the idea of losing money is a strong motivator for maintaining an exercise program. So, if you pay for a gym membership and never use it, that sense of monetary loss can motivate you to actually go to the gym. Still, the value you place on that membership is important too. You might not feel a significant sense of loss over a $10 monthly gym membership, whereas the threat of losing $200 a month for a different membership might matter more. In one study, money was deducted from some participants’ prepaid accounts each time a fitness goal (walking 7000 steps/day) wasn’t met. Those who “lost” money experienced a greater increase in activity compared to those who were paid each day they met the same goal. For some people, losses feel worse than gains feel good.

You also might consider pre-paid or unlimited-visit gym memberships, where you pay a certain amount up front. And the more often you go, you get more bang for your buck as each class becomes cheaper.

Sometimes you need to “trick yourself” into good behaviors. Are you motivated by losses or gains? Find a trick that works for your wallet and you might find yourself in better shape for it!

Can massage relieve my back pain?

When performed by a licensed massage therapist, massages can help reduce your back pain. Learn more.

If you’re struggling with back pain, therapeutic massage can bring some relief. Some evidence suggests that it can help reduce pain in your lower back and neck too.

There are many different massage techniques, such as Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, and sports massage. During a massage, a trained therapist applies pressure and other forms of manipulation (such as kneading, circular movements, or tapping) onto muscle and soft tissue. The application of pressure on different layers of skin helps stimulate blood circulation, which could alleviate pain. Massages can increase calmness and decrease anxiety, which also can relieve your pain.

Massages can be particularly effective at alleviating lower back pain, especially when combined with a strengthening and stretching program. Deep-tissue massages can relieve some post-workout muscle pain too. A soft-tissue massage around your shoulders and upper back can increase range of motion and decrease pain as well.

Massages are generally safe, but make sure you seek treatment from a trained professional. Still, a massage isn’t without risk. In rare instances, too much pressure can fracture bones or incorrectly manipulate your spine. A massage on broken, open, or irritated skin can be painful. If you’re pregnant or have a blood-thinning disorder, consult your medical professional before getting a massage.

If you have back pain, ask your doctor or medical professional about adding massages to your pain management plan. TRICARE doesn’t cover massages, but ask if your massage therapist offers discounts for service members and veterans. And, when possible, take steps to avoid injury and back pain.

Stand up for your health!

Is 30 minutes of exercise a day enough to keep the doctor away? What you’re doing the rest of the day can affect your health and performance too. Learn more.

Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day improves fitness and reduces your risk of chronic disease. But what you do for the other 23½ hours also can affect your health. Even though you’re getting the minimum amount of exercise, you’re at risk of “sitting disease,” if the rest of your day is spent doing sedentary activities such as sitting or sleeping. You’re still at risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses too. But there are ways to move more throughout your day.

The sedentary lifestyle

For many, a typical day is spent sitting or sedentary—whether you’re at your desk, in the car, at the dinner table, on the couch, or in bed. All this sedentary time puts you at greater risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer. The simple act of standing up has even more physiological benefits when compared to sitting. The “active couch potato” phenomenon shows that even people who are relatively fit and meet the minimum requirements for daily exercise still exhibit risk factors for metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases as sitting time increases.

Sure, you might take the dog out for its morning walk, or maybe you did PT before work. Still, the more time you spend sitting the rest of the day, the greater your risk of disease. According to this infographic from the American Institute for Cancer Research, even those who engage in moderate amounts of exercise and physical activity are still at risk of cancer if 12 or more hours in the rest of their day is spent seated or lying down.

 

Workplace workout

Time is often a major reason that people say they don’t get enough exercise or physical activity during their day. It’s true that work can get busy, but it might just take a little creativity to turn it into a productive and physically active workday. It’s still unclear exactly how much exercise offsets or reduces your risk from sitting, and more research is needed in this area. In the meanwhile, try these tips to help reduce your sedentary time:

  • Bike or walk to work, if possible. If you don’t live close enough to bike or walk the entire commute, try walking for at least part of your travel time. For example, park further from your building. Or choose a higher level in the parking garage.
  • Take walking breaks. Walk to a coworker’s office instead of calling or emailing. Suggest a walking meeting next time you and coworkers schedule a get-together. You could walk to a cafeteria, park, or nearby bench before eating lunch. Experts suggest that even 2 minutes of walking per hour can be beneficial, so set your timer and go.
  • Take the stairs. The more you climb, the easier it will get. Walk up and down escalators too instead of riding. Avoid elevators as much as possible.
  • Take small standing breaks. When your phone rings, you could stand up to answer it and remain standing during the call. When someone visits your workspace, stand during your conversation. Or consider switching to a standing desk in your office.
  • Use an activity tracker. Wearable technology can help remind you to stay active and keep moving.

Doing what you can to increase the amount of time you spend standing, exercising, and being physically active will improve your chances of a longer and healthier life.

Senior vets: Get your game on!

The National Veterans Golden Age Games will be held from May 7–11, 2017. Senior veterans with different abilities and disabilities are encouraged to participate. Learn more.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) embraces the motto “fitness for life,” emphasizing that physical fitness is important at every age. The VA also is encouraging older veterans to participate in the 31st annual National Veterans Golden Age Games. The multi-day event, a premier senior adaptive sport rehabilitation program, is open to veterans 55 years and older who are enrolled in the VA health care system.

Over 700 vets are expected to attend the multi-sport games in Biloxi, Mississippi from May 7–11, 2017. Competitive events include air rifle, badminton, bocce, bowling, cycling, golf, pickleball (a cross between Ping-Pong and tennis), and more.

Online registration is open until March 1, 2017, and events are filling up fast. Check out this video from last year’s games. Don’t delay: Register today!

Healthy shoulders, healthy warrior

Shoulder dislocation is common among service members. Learn how to keep your shoulders healthy and prevent dislocation and other injuries.

Whether you’ve already experienced a shoulder injury or avoided one, there are simple exercises you can do to maintain healthy shoulders. Shoulder dislocations are more common among military personnel than civilians. This might be explained by service members’ increased use of their upper extremities for job-related duties. The bad news is there aren’t any known avoidable risk factors associated with shoulder dislocation because it usually results from a single traumatic event. Once you’ve had a dislocation, you’re also at increased risk of experiencing another one.

The good news is healthy, strong shoulders can help reduce your risk of injury. HPRC’s RX3 Shoulder Pain section highlights exercises that are ideal for rehabilitating an injured or painful shoulder. These exercises also can help maintain healthy, uninjured shoulders! Or check out the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System (NOFFS) Virtual Trainer strength exercises.

Make sure to see your doctor if your shoulder pain worsens or swelling occurs.

Tai Chi for post-traumatic stress

Filed under: Exercise, PTSD, Tai Chi
Learn how this Asian form of exercise can be used to reduce the symptoms of PTS.

Tai Chi is a form of exercise and mind-body practice that can provide many physical, psychological, and social benefits. It can also be used to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS, formerly referred to as PTS). Tai Chi involves slow, gentle movements and controlled breathing. It can improve sleep, pain management, strength, and flexibility for many individuals. Practicing Tai Chi can also reduce depression, stress, and anger, which are often symptoms of PTS. The mental focus, relaxation and breathing techniques, and physical health benefits associated with Tai Chi might explain this reduction in depression and improvement in overall mood.

This Chinese form of exercise promotes relaxation and enhances alertness and attentiveness. Hyperarousal (that is, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, tense muscles, and sweating) is a common symptom of PTS, and Tai Chi can help individuals regulate their arousal levels. Tai Chi and other mind-body practices such as yoga and mindfulness can help individuals cope with chronic pain and health ailments that commonly accompany symptoms of PTS.

You don’t have to be diagnosed with PTS to experience the benefits of Tai Chi, though. It is a low-impact workout for anyone who would like to sweat a little and relax the mind. Also, it is offered at many MWR facilities on military bases around the world. If you would like to try it first in the comfort of your own home, there are videos online you can watch to get an idea of the practice and what it involves. Look at your gym schedule to see if Tai Chi is available to try out too!

Winter-workout tips

Make sure you’re prepared for exercising in the cold weather. Learn more.

It can be extra challenging to get outdoors and exercise in the winter. But don’t let cold temperatures freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to help you “weather” the winter weather!

  • Dress in layers. Choose synthetic materials such as polyester or polypropylene that stay close to the skin. Avoid cotton since it soaks up sweat! You always can remove layers as you get warmer.
  • Warm up. Take a few minutes and do a dynamic warm up before you head outdoors. This will help warm up your muscles and body, so it might feel like less of a shock when you step outside.
  • Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather. Chemical heat warmers also can help keep your hands and feet warm.
  • Check the forecast. Wind chill, snow, and rain can make your body more vulnerable to the outside temperatures. Plan an indoor workout when the wind chill is extreme (negative numbers) or the temperature drops below 0°F. You’re at risk of hypothermia and frostbite if you’re not properly prepared.
  • Be visible. With fewer hours of sunlight in the winter months, you might be walking or running when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Wear reflective gear or a headlamp to stay visible to oncoming traffic.
  • Apply sunblock. You can still get sunburned in the winter, so don’t forget the sunscreen!
  • Stay hydrated. When exercising in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to indicate hydration since you usually don’t feel as thirsty in cold temperatures. You need to stay just as hydrated in cold weather as you do when it’s hot outside.
  • Ask your doctor. Certain symptoms might worsen in cold weather if you have asthma, heart issues, or Raynaud’s disease (when specific body parts feel numb due to cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.

Track your weight loss

Have you ever wondered if it’s helpful to record what you eat? Learn how self-monitoring techniques can help you reach your weight-loss goals.

The first step to losing weight and gaining better health is using self-monitoring techniques to track your calories. Armed with this information, you can reinforce what’s working well. Some evidence suggests that recording food and beverage intake leads to healthy, sustainable weight loss. Weighing yourself daily might help too.

What’s the secret to weight-loss success? Choose a self-monitoring technique that works for you:  Try to do these actions frequently—at least 3 times per week—and turn them into healthy habits. Read more...

New year, new fitness goals

Do you have trouble keeping your long-term fitness goals? Interim goals will continue to fuel your motivation and make your end goal feel closer.

Do you make a New Year’s resolution every year to “get in shape” and then approach year’s end dissatisfied? The problem might be that fitness is a long-term goal that’s hard to keep in focus. Goals that seem more in reach often feel more desirable (for example, money, food, or a finish line) than ones that seem further away. For example, when you’re at the end of a race and can see the finish line in front of you, you’ll probably see the finish line as closer than it really is. However, runners who are less fit and less motivated estimate the distance to a finish line as farther than do runners who are fit and highly motivated. Whether or not the goal is actually closer, believing that it is triggers excitement and fuels effort towards achieving the goal.

That’s all well and good if you’re already out running that race, but sometimes getting off the couch is the hardest thing to do when you’re out of shape. And even if you want to get in shape, your poor fitness can affect whether you believe you can achieve your fitness goals.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape. Keep your eye on the prize! The “prize” could be anything. It could literally be the finish line; the next milestone on your route, such as the building at the end of the block; or even be a post-race reward, such as a healthy post-workout smoothie.

Remember, some goals are harder to achieve than others, but you can stay the course by imagining what's coming, keeping the self-talk positive, and setting SMART goals along the way. This will help keep your motivation high and the prize within reach. Exercisers who focus on an end goal and ignore the distractions around them perceive their goal as being closer, perform better, and—perhaps most important—don’t consider the exercise as difficult. So, if you see your goals as being closer to you in your mind, you’ll have something motivating to look forward to.

Busting the “fat-burning zone” myth

What’s a “fat-burning zone”? Is it based on actual science?

You’ve probably seen those colorful charts on exercise machines at the gym, showing your ideal heart rate zone for optimal fat burn. Is this “zone” the best way to burn fat?

The concept of the “fat-burning zone” might not be entirely true. Many people assume that in order to burn fat, they must keep their heart rate within the defined range. This can be misleading for a few reasons. First, people’s heart rates are very different, making it difficult to generalize recommendations from a fixed chart. Second, your body burns two main sources of energy during exercise: fats and carbohydrates. (Protein is an energy source, but it’s only used in very small amounts.) For any given heart rate, your body will burn both carbohydrates and fats; however, the proportion of each will vary. Low-intensity exercises (lower heart rate) with a longer duration (30 minutes or more) mostly rely on fat for energy. So, there’s a zone in which a higher proportion of fat is being used for energy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more fat is being burned. Your body actually gets most of its energy from fat during rest. In theory, your ultimate “fat-burning zone” is in your living room: you lying on your couch, binge-watching your favorite new series.

So, how do you burn more fat? High-intensity exercises actually burn the most fat due to the higher overall energy (caloric) expenditure. Interval training is a great way to boost the intensity of your workout, and you get that “afterburn” effect. Fitness level also is a factor. Fitter people’s bodies tend to utilize more fats than carbohydrates.

If you’re training for endurance activities, the “fat-burning zone” on the exercise machines might be the “right zone” for you. To burn even more fat, you ultimately need to burn more overall calories. High-intensity workouts are a challenging and efficient way to help reach your goal.

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