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Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Mirror therapy for phantom limb pain

Phantom limb pain commonly occurs after an arm and/or leg amputation. Learn how mirror therapy helps heal service members.

The brain can “feel” pain even after an arm and/or leg amputation, but a new treatment using mirrors can provide some relief. This common phenomenon, known as phantom limb pain (PLP), occurs in at least 75% of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veteran amputees. Although its causes aren’t fully understood, one theory is that there’s a mismatch between what your brain sees and what it feels.

Mirror therapy offers a promising treatment for those suffering from PLP. A long mirror is placed between the patient’s legs and set to face the intact limb. As the patient moves and watches the intact limb in the mirror’s reflection, the brain is “tricked” into seeing the missing limb. The brain “sees” the phantom limb moving in the mirror and quiets busy activity or bad memories. The mirror positively stimulates the brain, causing reorganization or rewiring; this helps relieve PLP.

Healthcare providers have successfully used mirror therapy to help single-limb amputees. They’ve also adjusted the approach for double-limb amputees. Using an adapted method, a physical therapist (PT) acts as the mirror. The PT sits beside the patient and then mimics or “mirrors” the amputee’s phantom limbs with his/her intact limbs. For example, if a patient complains of calf cramps, the PT can stretch his/her own calves while the patient observes and feels relief in their phantom limbs. They’re currently working on using virtual reality to take the approach a step further.

Not your grandma’s wheelchair

The National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) will be held from June 27–July 2, 2016. Learn more about the games and how you can get involved.

This summer marks the 36th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG). The events, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, begin on June 27, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Registration deadline is April 15, 2016. Register early as events fill up fast. Any veteran who uses a wheelchair for sport and is eligible for care in the VA system (due to spinal cord injury, Multiple Sclerosis, amputation, or neurological condition) can participate. Need some motivation? Check out this video from last year’s games.

We’re always looking for sponsors and volunteers to help with NVWG activities—come on out and support our vets!

Chill out and keep moving!

You don’t have to hibernate during the colder months. Exercising in the cold takes a little extra planning to stay safe and comfortable.

Don’t let cold weather freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to stay motivated, safe, and warm.

  • 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 can always remove layers as you get warmer.
  • Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather.
  • 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 or the temperature drops below 0°F.
  • 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 to cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.

You’ve got questions?

We’ve got answers. Learn more about staying physically fit in HPRC’s FAQ and Ask the Expert sections.

Looking for some answers to basic fitness questions? You’re not alone. We’ve created a FAQ section on topics we hear a lot about. Whether you want to know about flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, injury prevention, or workout routines—we have the answers. Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Submit your question using our Ask the Expert feature. We’ll provide an evidence-based answer to keep you informed and in shape.

Check back often to learn the latest and greatest information on exercising, optimizing performance, and staying resilient. 

Enjoy your run without "the runs"

Having the urge “to go” during a workout isn’t unusual for endurance athletes. There are steps you can take that could get you to the finish line accident-free

There’s an unpleasant situation that runners sometimes experience called “runners’ trots” or diarrhea. While short lasting and generally harmless, they can be annoying and cost you time during training or a race.

Certain activities such as high-intensity or long-duration exercise and vertical-impact sports (e.g., running vs. biking) increase your risk of gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort. Dehydration, poor conditioning, medication, and eating habits can cause GI irritation too. Despite the lack of hard evidence as to what causes these GI issues, there are things you can do to help settle your stomach:

  • Avoid trying new foods or sports drinks during a race.
  • Increase the time between eating and activity. Wait at least 3 hours after eating a large meal, or eat a smaller meal or snack closer to training time.
  • Plan out your meals, especially for endurance events.
  • Pay attention to what you eat to help identify foods that increase your discomfort during running. It’s best to avoid these until after you finish your race.
  • Limit your intake of gas-forming or fiber-rich foods (e.g., broccoli, onions, and beans).
  • If you’re sensitive, avoid coffee and other forms of caffeine before a run.
  • Hydrate before and during endurance activities; it will help blood flow to the GI area.
  • If you use sports gels or chews for endurance events, drink enough water (three to eight ounces every 15–20 minutes) to stay hydrated.
  • Give yourself time to use the bathroom before an endurance exercise.
  • Increase distance and intensity gradually.

If symptoms persist for more than a few days, even at rest, seek medical attention. Enjoy your run!

5 ways to stay active at work

Even with regular exercise, sitting for most of the day can increase your risk for chronic illnesses and early death. Find out what you can do about it.

Little things you do during your workday can reduce the amount of time you sit, decreasing your chance of developing certain sicknesses. Many jobs involve hours of sitting. Commuting, sitting down for dinner and TV after work, and then sleeping only add to the time most people sit or lie down in their daily lives. The more time you spend sitting, the higher your risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. We offer some ways to move more throughout your workday. Read more here.

Foam roll with it!

Use a foam roller to relieve overworked muscles, reduce soreness, and improve performance.

Foam rolling can help increase your range of motion (that is, how much your muscles and joints can move) and reduce muscle soreness that results from working out too hard or too long. So how does it work? More research is needed to understand its full effects, but Golgi tendon organs—specialized muscle nerve endings—are sensitive to changes in muscle tension. When you roll over them, the muscles relax. Here are some tips for effective foam rolling:

  • Don’t foam roll over newly injured areas.
  • If you’re just starting out, you might want to choose a lower-density foam roller. Higher-density foam rollers will provide more pressure.
  • Roll to find tight spots in your muscles and then hold your weight over those areas, or continuously roll over a muscle to loosen it.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time you roll over each muscle. If you’re just starting, foam roll 1–2 minutes per muscle group.
  • Focus on large muscle groups such as your quads and upper back.

Check out HPRC’s how-to videos on foam rolling calves, hamstrings, glutes, and more. Roll on!

Football season fitness

Ready for some football? Get off the couch and in the game with these fitness tips.

For many fans, watching football means indulging in comfort food and drinks—and lounging around on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a way to round out the weekend and relax before the start of another workweek. But even one day of binging on game-day food and relaxation can ruin your regular healthy routine. The average football game consists of about 11 minutes of actual play—so you’re watching huddles, replays, and commercials in-between. Use that downtime to your advantage, call an audible, and get moving during time-outs!

  • Play some flag football at halftime.
  • Complete a quick workout during commercial breaks.
  • Remember to make healthy food choices too.

Check out A Football Fan’s Guide to Food and Fitness for ways to stay healthy and active during football season.

 

Running safety

Filed under: Fitness, Running, Safety
Safety first! Check out some tips on how to stay safe while you’re out for a run.

Running is one of the simplest forms of exercise—just throw on your shoes and head out the door. But there are a few simple things you can do to ensure your run is safe too:

  • Carry identification. Bring some form of identification with you. There are various types of wristbands and shoe tags to provide emergency contact and medical information too.
  • Stay visible. Wear a headlamp and/or reflective gear so drivers can see you when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Make yourself visible to oncoming traffic.
  • Turn the music down. Music can be a great way to help you keep pace. But if your tunes are too loud, you may not be able to hear cars or people coming up behind you. Keep music at a volume low enough that you can hear what’s going on around you, or try wearing just one earpiece when you run.
  • Grab a buddy. Running with a friend is a great way to keep both of you motivated and accountable. But when you do run alone, let someone know and share your planned route.  
  • Use the crosswalk and follow crossing signs. Drivers tend to be more aware of pedestrians near crosswalks because in many areas pedestrians (runners included) have the right-of-way there. If you’re running where there is a crosswalk, use it.
  • Don’t assume a car will stop just because you’re in a crosswalk. Make sure the driver sees you, slows down, and allows you to safely cross the street.
  • Run against street traffic. Sometimes it’s easier to run on the shoulder or in a bike lane. Remember to run against traffic (normally the left side of the road) so you can see the cars and the drivers can see you.

Stay safe and happy running! 

Get SMART about your goals

Setting goals that you will actually accomplish can be easier said than done. Check out HPRC’s goal-setting worksheet to learn a formula for success!

Whatever your goals are, keep in mind that they’re easier to accomplish when they’re SMART goals:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable/Action-oriented
  • Relevant
  • Time-sensitive

It’s a well-established method for fitness-oriented goals—to lift a certain weight, cycle a century, or run a marathon in a certain amount of time—and it works equally well in other areas of life. Maybe you want to reach a specific rank at your job or finish college by a certain date. Goals aren’t just for dreaming big; they’re for achieving.

For more details on using SMART goals to achieve your goals, read HPRC’s “Get SMART about setting goals.” Then you can use our SMART Goals Worksheet to help you:

  • think through exactly what you’re aiming for;
  • determine if this goal is a good fit for you;
  • measure and track your progress;
  • use success-oriented language to think and talk about your goal; and
  • break down the end goal into manageable steps.
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