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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
Exercising outdoors can be uncomfortable and sometimes unhealthy when it’s hot and humid, but there are ways to work out through the weather woes. You’re more likely to breathe faster and deeper and through your mouth—bypassing your nose’s natural filtration system—on hot days. You also risk greater exposure to air pollutants (such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and ozone) that can inflame your respiratory system. However, the risks associated with not exercising at all are far greater than the risks of exercising outdoors.
So, plan ahead before exercising outside. And limit your exposure to pollutants, especially on days and in conditions when pollution is bad.
- Avoid exercising in heavy-traffic areas, such as along highways and during rush hour.
- During warmer months, exercise earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when ozone levels and temperatures aren’t as high.
- Check the domestic or international air-quality ratings to determine when it’s safe to exercise outside. Limit your time outside on Code Red and Code Orange days. Environmental conditions on these days aren’t healthy, especially for children, the elderly, and those with existing respiratory conditions.
- Exercise indoors when the air quality indicates high ozone and particulate levels.
- Before any demanding physical activity, limit your carbon monoxide exposure by avoiding smoky areas and long car rides in congested traffic.
Plan some indoor and outdoor adventures with your kids this summer and enjoy free admission to national parks and museums across the country. Hiking, camping, and learning activities are good for their minds and bodies.
The amount of time children spend outdoors is steadily decreasing. Kids now spend more time inside—staring at screens—and less time outside. Your feelings about outdoor recreation likely impact how much time your kids spend outside too. Still, children who camp and hike tend to have more positive attitudes towards nature and the environment. Those who enjoy the outdoors tend to enjoy it as adults too.
Kids get more exercise at parks and playgrounds. So, shake things up by taking them to any national park: Free annual passes are available to current U.S. service members and their families, as well as Reserve and National Guard members.
Military families also can enjoy free admission to over 2,000 nature centers and art, science, history, and children’s museums through Labor Day. Museums encourage active learning and impact kids’ social and mental development. Little ones especially enjoy hands-on activities, interactive exhibits, and new learning experiences with their parents at children’s museums. And it keeps them on the go.
Muscle pain a day or so after exercise—known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—is common among athletes. Do you wonder why this happens—even when your workout went great—or what you can do about it?
DOMS results from damage to muscle fibers that occurred during exercise. You might experience DOMS after a hard workout, or even simple activities such as running and/or walking downhill or jumping. It also can occur when you’re starting a new workout routine or just getting back into shape after an illness or injury. The good news is DOMS can be treated at home—and sometimes prevented—with simple techniques, including stretching, protein/carbohydrate recovery drinks, and cold-water immersion. Sports massage and foam rolling can help reduce muscle soreness too.
Over-the-counter medications also can provide some relief. But use these at the lowest effective dose. Visit your doctor if the pain worsens or swelling occurs. In the meantime, read HPRC’s article, “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness,” to learn about the difference between DOMS and other musculoskeletal pain.
Activity monitors or “activity trackers” can be fun and useful tools for monitoring your exercise and other activities. Some products also track your sleep every day. And some even can track your diet. With the ever-evolving technology, there’s likely a tracker that’s best for you: from simple step/distance/calorie-counting to smartwatches with GPS tracking.
These days, the most popular trackers seem to be wearable wristbands. Check out our updated comparison chart of some popular trackers to help find the right one for your needs and budget. While they can be fun and interactive social fitness tools, it’s important to remember they’re not meant to be used as medical devices. All activity trackers will have some margin of error, and none of them make perfect measurements. Be sure to speak with your doctor if you’re looking for a specific medical device.
Still, if you want to stay active, motivated, and healthy, then an activity tracker might be a perfect fit!
Dumbbells, kettle bells, barbells, and benches can be expensive additions to your home gym. So, get creative, look around your home, and find common household items that can help pump up your fitness routine. Or reuse balls or bottles to boost strength and reduce waste to help protect the environment. Try these DIY home-exercise hacks for a full-body workout that’s convenient and easy on your wallet!
- Perform calf raises, single-leg raises, or squats on your stairs.
- Use a sturdy chair for tricep dips, step-ups, push-ups, or squat jumps.
- Practice ab rollers using a hand or kitchen towel on your tile or hardwood floors, or switch to paper plates for use on a carpet.
- Use a gallon (or half-gallon) jug—filled with sand to desired weight—for bicep curls, overhead presses, or tricep extensions.
- Use a 72-oz detergent bottle—weighing about 5 lbs—for 2-handed lifts such as shoulder raises or sumo squats.
- Use water bottles—filled with water or sand—for a variety of dumbbell-weight exercises, including bicep curls, weight lunges, and shoulder presses.
- Make a medicine ball: Cut a slit in a basketball or soccer ball, fill with sand, and seal.
Can you train in the heat to improve your performance at altitude? The answer is “sort of.” “Cross acclimation” or “cross tolerance” is the idea that exposing yourself to one environmental condition can help you adapt to another one as long as they have certain things in common.
As it turns out, this is the case for heat and hypoxia (low oxygen). This is important because athletes and service members can be exposed to altitude without prior or sufficient acclimatization. Altitude sickness can cause several problems, especially decreased performance. But some evidence shows that this method of training in hot conditions to prepare for altitude can actually work.
If you climb to the top of a mountain, there’s less air and less pressure. And you’re getting less oxygen with each breath. This can be simulated at sea level (in special labs) where pressures are normal, but the amount of oxygen in the air is reduced (fake altitude).
However, there’s a bit of a catch. Training in the heat under artificial low-oxygen conditions—normobaric hypoxia or “fake altitude”—involves normal pressure, which is different from “real altitude” or hypobaric hypoxia, which involves reduced oxygen at low pressure. The difference is in the pressure.
So, do these two environments cause the same types of physiological changes? There are several other factors involved in real-altitude acclimatization that might not be accounted for at fake altitude, so the jury’s still out.
Training in the heat might prepare you for performance at altitude—to a point. Ideally, if you’re going to be at altitude, try to acclimatize yourself as much as you can.
This Father’s Day, HPRC salutes the many fathers who serve their country, families, and children. Dads play an essential role in families because they teach their kids about being healthy, smart, and kind. And it makes a difference.
So how do fathers teach their kids to become good people? Some dads help their children tune in to their own emotions as well as what others are thinking and feeling. Empathic kids are able to tolerate some degree of anger and guilt. And they use these emotions to look out for themselves and others.
School-age children with involved fathers are more likely to earn better grades and enjoy school. Dads can get more involved by helping their kids with homework and attending school events. Ask your kids about what they’re learning and help foster that curiosity.
Try to volunteer when your schedule allows it too. Coach your child’s sports team or serve as a scout leader. Pick whatever activity he or she enjoys—and your athlete or “mathlete” will shine.
Dads also can help put the fun in family fitness. Organize a bike ride, challenging hike, or fun day at the pool. Fathers with healthy-exercise habits help motivate their kids to be physically fit and active.
Remember to teach your children how to fuel their bodies. Set a good example for your kids to follow. Choose healthy snacks and drinks often because your kids are likely to eat and drink “what Dad’s having.” And ask them to help create your favorite salsa, pancakes, and chili in the kitchen. Make sure to involve the entire family during cleanup too.
Fathers near and far: Thanks for all you do!
There are “steps” you can take to protect your feet from blisters. Common among athletes and service members, they might seem like a minor nuisance. However, if left untreated, they can lead to serious infections, sepsis (blood infection), and knee, ankle, or hip injuries.
Blisters result from a combination of friction and moisture. They’ve been blamed on shoe fit or lacing style, but scientific research has shown this isn’t necessarily the case. Common remedies—such as applying antiperspirant or drying powders to the bottom of the foot—aren’t very effective. And in some instances, they can cause irritation, increasing your chances of developing more blisters.
So if friction and moisture are causing problems, then wearing proper socks can bring relief. Look for ones made from acrylic fibers or materials other than cotton, which tends to stay wet. Synthetic materials (nylon, neoprene, and polyester) reduce the amount of shoe-to-sock and sock-to-foot friction by wicking moisture away from your skin. Padded socks also help because they allow for movement within the yarn, reducing frictional forces.
Some evidence suggests wearing a synthetic nylon or polyester liner with an outer-padded wool sock can help prevent blisters. Tip: Try finding your ideal sock before buying boots or shoes because the added bulk might affect the shoe size you need.
You also can reduce your risk of blisters by planning ahead, especially on extremely hot or rainy days. Avoid puddles. Remember to bring an extra pair of socks too. And avoid pouring water on your head since it can drip down into your shoes. Keep your feet happy and blister-free.
The best ways for men of any age to stay healthy include understanding risk factors, exercising regularly, eating right, and getting screened for potential health issues. Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death among men. The good news is that exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk for these illnesses. Visit your doctor for routine checkups too.
The Military Health System has declared June as Men’s Health Awareness Month. Wear Blue Day is Friday, June 17. Wear blue to help raise awareness about men’s health issues. Help spread the word that good-health habits keep them fit and strong. And visit HPRC’s Exercise section for information on strength training, fitness guidelines, and more.
Bicycle and motorcycle helmets save lives and help prevent serious brain and face injuries. Service members wear helmets on the battlefield to prevent death and serious head injury. Wearing helmets can reduce motorcycle-related deaths effectively. While bike helmets might not prevent concussions (a mild form of traumatic brain injury), they can go a long way toward preventing severe brain injuries.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2014 alone, more than 4,500 motorcyclists were killed in motor-vehicle accidents and an estimated 88,000 motorcyclists were injured. Motorcycle-related deaths were a significant cause of non-combat deaths among veterans in 2013.
Motorcycle safety classes provide safe riding strategies. For example, the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence offers safety courses for active duty, reserve, and guard members. And the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center sponsors a motorcycle mentorship program that pairs new riders with experienced ones.
Ready to bike to work or school—or just for fun? Check out the League of American Bicyclists website for helpful cycling tips, videos, and more. Ride smart!