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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
The Army has been working to make sure that the small first-aid kits that soldiers carry are equipped with the proper equipment they might need in an emergency. Here’s the lowdown on the additions to the IFAK II.
The new design is compatible with the Improved Outer Tactical Vest, where it can be mounted on the back, out of the way but still easy to reach. The creators of the IFAK II made individual tabs that “feel” different for each of the kit’s contents—so that when a soldier is trying to reach for something quickly, he/she can easily distinguish between products without actually looking at each pouch. This design is critical for rapid access to first-aid materials.
Other upgrades to the kit include the addition of a second tourniquet, a strap cutter, and a rubber-seal device to treat a sucking chest wound (when a bullet penetrates the lung and interferes with proper air flow). The addition of an eye patch to the kit also can help reduce damage to injured eyes.
Some soldiers in Afghanistan are already carrying the kits to test their functionality and provide feedback that can help lead to even more improvements.
In 2013, the Research Institute of Chicago (RIC) presented the first mind-controlled bionic leg, thanks to support from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command's (USAMRMC) Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC). Until now, this technology was only available for prosthetic arms. These brainy bionic legs are still being studied and perfected, but it’s hoped that they will be available in the next few years. This life-changing technology will be able to help the more than 1,600 service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with amputations. Bionic limbs will make the transition to active duty or civilian life smoother for wounded warriors.
In one case study, a civilian who lost his lower leg in a motorcycle accident underwent a procedure called “Targeted Muscle Re-innervation”. This procedure redirects nerves that originally went to muscles in the amputated limb to still-healthy muscles in the limb above the amputation. As these healthy muscles contract, they generate signals that are detected by sensors within the prosthetic and analyzed by a specially-designed computer chip and program The program rapidly decodes the type of movement the individual is preparing to do, such as bending the knee, and then sends those commands to the leg. This allows the person to walk up and down ramps and stairs and transition between activities without stopping. The user also can move (reposition) the bionic leg just by thinking about it, which is not possible with current motorized prosthetics.
The bionic leg is also showing a decreased rate of falling and quicker response time. Stay tuned for availability of this groundbreaking technology.
[Image Source: RIC/NWU]
Activity monitors, also known as “activity trackers” or “accelerometers,” provide an easy way to track how much exercise and sleep you get each day, and some even track your diet. Most are small enough to be a convenient, easy way to keep you accountable and on track for getting the recommended amount of exercise each day. They also offer computer and/or smartphone apps for on-the-go tracking. Check out our comparison chart of some of the more popular trackers to find the right one for you and your budget.
Self-myofascial release, commonly known as “foam rolling,” has caught on in gyms and physical therapy clinics—and for good reason. It can help loosen tight muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia (the covering of the muscles), increasing your range of motion (that is, how much your muscles and joints can move). Foam rolling can also reduce the muscle soreness that results from working out too hard or too long. One recent study found yet another benefit: If you foam roll before a workout, it can possibly reduce the fatigue you feel during the actual session, thus increasing the length of time that you can exercise or even how hard you work out. How does foam rolling work? More research is needed to understand all its effects, but it is known that muscles have specialized receptors called Golgi Tendon Organs (GTOs) that are sensitive to changes in muscle tension, so when you roll over them, the muscles relax.
How do you get started? First, check with your doctor to make sure that it’s safe for you to do, and then follow these guidelines:
- Don’t foam roll over recently injured areas.
- More density = more pressure, so choose a low-density foam roller if you are just starting, and then progress to one that’s more dense.
- Foam roll over tension spots you feel in your muscles, or use continuous rolling over a muscle to loosen it.
- Gradually increase the amount of time you roll over each muscle. Generally, one or two minutes per muscle group is recommended if you are just starting.
Maintaining good oral health has long been a challenge for Warfighters. As early as the 4th century BC, Greek historian and soldier Xenophon noted that his fellow warriors had sore, foul-smelling mouths. During World War I, the term “trench mouth” was coined to describe poor oral health among soldiers engaged in trench warfare. Despite advances in dental care and hygiene, deployed Warfighters are still at risk for trench mouth—now referred to as necrotizing periodontal disease (NPD)—a condition that can lead to painful ulcers, spontaneous gum bleeding, and a foul taste in the mouth. Poor oral health adversely affects readiness and could cost you your career. A variety of factors can contribute to the problem of poor oral health, so we offer a few solutions.
Poor hygiene. Warfighters often have little time for oral hygiene when deployed, and you could fall out of your normal routine of brushing and flossing. In addition, you may overlook the need to pack a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss in your personal hygiene kits, making it even more difficult to keep your mouth and teeth clean.
Solution: Be sure to pack a few travel-size tubes of toothpaste, some dental floss, and a travel-size toothbrush in your travel bag and establish a routine as quickly as possible.
Tobacco use. Using tobacco products can lead to gum disease by impairing blood flow to your gums, which can cause tooth loss and make you more susceptible to mouth infections. Tobacco use affects other aspects of performance, too.
Solution: It’s never too late to quit—check out these great tips to become tobacco-free.
Poor nutrition. Eating right can be challenging in the field. The stress of combat and training missions can dampen your appetite and—let’s face it—MREs aren’t the same as a good, home-cooked meal. But not eating enough food or not eating a variety of foods can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that reduce your ability to fight infections.
Solution: Although MREs can’t replicate the tastes of home, they are nutritionally balanced to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies among Warfighters during training and combat missions. It’s important to eat a variety of MREs and to eat as many of the different components as you can to make sure you get all the nutrients they provide.
Stress. There’s no doubt that stress adversely affects many aspects of performance and overall health, to include dental health. Stress can cause dry mouth and sore, inflamed gums.
Solution: HPRC’s Stress Management section can help you find ways to cope with your stress.
While any one of these factors can contribute to dental problems such as tooth decay, when taken together, they can create a “perfect storm” that can cause serious dental issues such as NPD. Maintaining a good oral-health routine (even when deployed), cutting back on tobacco, eating right, and managing your stress can go a long way toward helping you maintain good oral health and your performance. For more information, look into these tips on oral health from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And be sure to take care of your teeth (while you still have them)!
It’s time to get up off the floor and add something new your core-workout routine. Crunches aren’t the only way to strengthen your core. The Human Performance Resource Center now offers a six-video YouTube series on Vertical Core Training. Your core is more than just your abs; it includes other muscles that stabilize your shoulders, hips, and pelvis. Whether it’s lifting ammo cans or loading a truck, a strong core will help you move safely and efficiently. Use these videos to guide you through various exercises that will help improve total core strength and stability for everyday activities and optimal performance. You can also find these videos and other training resources online in HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.
You’re watching what you eat. You’re exercising regularly. You’re doing everything right. But for some reason, your weight-loss goal is just out of reach. It seems those “last 10 pounds” are often the hardest ones to shake! Fortunately, with continued effort and persistence, you likely can achieve your weight-loss goals.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to make sure the goals you’ve set for yourself are realistic, healthy, and sustainable. After that, it’s time to get to work.
Go back to square one. That is, make sure you’re as careful about what you choose to eat now as when you first started on your weight-loss journey. Sometimes we lapse into old habits over time and start “allowing” unhealthy choices to creep back into our diet patterns. Keeping a food diary will help you keep track of what you’re really eating. And don’t forget to watch your portion sizes.
Be a weekend warrior. Many people find it harder to make healthy choices on the weekend—tailgate parties, family celebrations, and road trips all offer opportunities to “slip.” But eating healthy is a full-time job, so it’s important to plan ahead: Take a low-fat dish that you’ve prepared and choose restaurants where you know you’ll have healthy options available.
Stand up for yourself. Literally. Standing, rather than sitting, can burn as many as 200 to 300 calories per day and can help prevent many types of disease. Find as many opportunities in your day to stand, walk, and move as much as you can. Check out HPRC’s blog about “sitting disease” for more information about the risks of sitting too much.
Shake things up. Varying the type and intensity of your exercise is a great way to challenge yourself and prevent boredom—and can make a big difference toward achieving your goals.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important not only in the short term (for your performance as well as your career) but also in the long term, reducing your risk of many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
As you read this article right now, your eyes are working harder than they would if you were reading a book or even watching TV. Attention, desk warriors! If you stare at a computer for most of the day, you could leave work experiencing dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. 90% of people who work on a computer experience symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. Symptoms include blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, eye strain, irritation, redness, and any number of other ocular symptoms.
Computers have become a necessity in our world, so monitors are here to stay. Here are some of the causes of CVS and some tips to help you protect your eyes from the screen:
- Blinking. One of the main symptoms of CVS is eye dryness. This occurs for two reasons: First, your eyes are focusing on the same depth of field for an extended period of time; second, unlike the non-stop action on a TV screen, there may be little movement happening on your computer screen. The lack of movement and constant field depth leads to less blinking and, therefore, eye dryness.
Fix it by spending 30 seconds every hour or so adjusting your eyes to something far away. If you work in a small office, put up a picture and focus on something small in the background. This change in depth of field will exercise your eyes, and you’ll blink more!
- Monitors. The pixels on a computer screen can cause some problems. Because they are not all the same brightness, they don’t produce the same contrast. And they can cause words or pictures on the screen to look fuzzy, straining your eyes and contributing to CVS.
Fix it by investing in a good LCD monitor if you have not done so already. LCD monitors reduce glare and contrast, as compared with older types of monitors. If you already have an LCD monitor, then talk to an ophthalmologist about getting some reading glasses to help reduce eye strain. Adjusting the lighting in the room and/or on your computer screen can also help soften the symptoms of CVS.
- Existing vision problems. You may already have a vision problem that went undiagnosed until you started staring at a computer. Extended computer use can exaggerate already existing eye conditions and lead to some of the symptoms of CVS.
Fix it by talking to a physician about corrective lenses. The Vision Center of Excellence has excellent resources from the VA and DoD for vision support.
In summary: Protect your eyes from CVS by taking frequent breaks from the computer, by blinking more often, and by making sure you work in an ergonomically efficient office setup. If you want to more information about CVS, check out “A Survival Guide to Computer Workstations.”
Many Warfighters exposed to bomb blasts in the field walk away unscathed—or so it would seem. However, there could be some damage they’re not “seeing.”
Many Warfighters survive bomb blasts without obvious injuries, but the high-pressure shockwaves from explosive blasts can cause serious physical damage to a Warfighter’s eyes. In fact, up to 10% of all blast survivors experience significant eye injuries, either from projectiles thrown into their eyes, eye perforations caused by the high-pressure blast waves, or effects on the eyes associated with traumatic brain injury (TBI). If you were exposed to a blast while in the field but were not otherwise injured, don’t wait to set up an appointment with your eye doctor. Your vision is extremely important! Don’t let potential eye injury go untreated. For more information on how blast waves can affect your vision, visit the Vision Center of Excellence.
You’ve been training, and now you’re in pain. It could be you’re having a painful introduction to one of your tendons. Strong tendons connect your muscles to the bones in your body and help you move by pulling on the bones when your muscles contract. Damage to tendons can occur from repetitive activities (including running and firing your weapon repeatedly over an extended period of time) or from sudden movements that put too much stress on a tendon. If you can’t avoid these activities, then pay attention to the warning signs that a tendon could be reaching its breaking point: pain, especially when moving the affected area; swelling over the area of pain; and, possibly, loss of motion in the joint.
The best way to avoid having to get treatment for tendonitis is to prevent it from happening in the first place! Follow these tips:
- Overall health: Maintain a healthy diet and weight, and check out HPRC’s Nutrition domain.
- Posture and body mechanics: Pay attention to your posture and make sure that you use correct body mechanics, especially when lifting and moving heavy objects.
- Maintain adequate muscle strength so your body can react to stresses you place on it.
- Maintain adequate flexibility.
- Consider proper workout gear, especially footwear; check out this HPRC article for more information.
- Activity modification: Rest the affected area. This could mean taking some time off from activities that cause pain and further damage. For example, if you’re a runner with Achilles tendonitis, try biking instead until the tendon has healed enough.
- Ice: Cold can help to decrease pain and swelling.
- Physical therapy: Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, as well as massage, might help but should be done under the supervision of a healthcare provider.
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Ask your physician about medications that can help your condition.
- Bracing or casting might be needed in severe cases.
You should see your doctor right away if you experience fever, redness, and warmth in the affected area, or multiple sites of pain. For more information on injury prevention, check out HPRC’s “Preventing common injuries,” which covers six specific areas of injury: wrist and hand, knee, ankle, rotator cuff, back, and IT band.