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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Tackling chronic pain

Be empowered to do more about chronic pain with this article from HPRC and video from the Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management.

Pain can take a toll on you physically and emotionally, but there are some steps you can take to cope with it. First, know if your pain is “acute” or “chronic.” Acute pain is temporary, often stemming from injuries that will heal completely. Chronic pain is ongoing, lasting for more than 3 months. It’s hard to know what to do about chronic pain. And it’s a big problem: At least 25% of people in the U.S. suffer from it.

If you have pain, it’s important to see a medical provider to rule out something life-threatening. However, most injuries heal physically as much as possible after 3–6 months, so residual pain has more to do with complex mind-body processes than a clear-cut physical problem. Learn more about a 5-step structured approach you can use to tackle chronic pain from the video below developed by the DoD/VA Joint Pain Education Project and the Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management

Preventing trench mouth

Maintaining good oral health can be challenging in the field. Learn how to keep your mouth healthy!

Poor oral health adversely affects readiness and could cost you your career, but it’s something you can prevent. Despite advances in dental care and hygiene, deployed service members are still at risk for trench mouth—technically referred to as “necrotizing periodontal disease,” or NPD—a condition that can lead to painful ulcers, spontaneous gum bleeding, and a foul taste in the mouth. A variety of factors can contribute to poor oral health, so we offer a few solutions. And remember to visit your dentist regularly when you can. 

  • Poor hygiene
    • When deployed, you may have little time for oral hygiene, making you fall out of your normal routine of brushing and flossing.
    • Solution: Pack a few travel-size tubes of toothpaste, dental floss, and a travel toothbrush in your kit, and establish a routine as quickly as possible.
  • Tobacco use
    • Using tobacco products can lead to gum disease by reducing blood flow to your gums, which can lead to tooth loss and mouth infections.
    • 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. But not eating enough food or the right foods can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that reduce your ability to fight oral infections.
    • Solution: Although MREs can’t replicate the tastes of a home cooked meal, they’re nutritionally balanced to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Eat a variety of MREs and eat as many of the components as you can to make sure you get all the nutrients they provide
  • Stress
    • Too much stress can adversely affect many aspects of performance and overall health, including dental health. Stress can cause dry mouth and sore, inflamed gums.
    • Solution: Start learning how to reduce stress with the ideas in this article from HPRC.


Find your Target Heart Rate

Filed under: Cardio, Heart, Heart rate
Tracking your heart rate is a great way to keep track of your exercise intensity.

Monitoring your heart rate is a useful tool you can learn to use to guide your training and make sure you’re getting the most out of your workouts. It can help make sure you’re pushing hard on interval days (vigorous exercise) and taking it easy on recovery days (light exercise). But what do words such as “light,” “moderate,” and “vigorous” mean when it comes to exercise?

You can determine your exercise intensity using your maximum and resting heart rates. Then you can use the Heart Rate Reserve (HRR) method to calculate your Target Heart Rate (THR) to determine what range your heart rate should be in for your desired exercise intensity. We provide a step-by-step process you can follow. Read more here.

Breathe better, run better!

Learn how to improve your breathing technique while running.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to how to breathe when you’re running, but there are a couple points to consider. During light to moderate exercise, people tend to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Breathing through your nose helps minimize the number of allergens that get into your airway, warm the air before it gets to your lungs (which can be helpful in cold temperatures), and increase the concentration of oxygen in your blood. However, as exercise intensity increases, most people switch to breathing through the mouth because they can inhale more air per breath with less resistance.

Running experts suggest practicing diaphragmatic breathing (“belly breathing”) rather than shallower chest breathing (where you raise your chest and shoulders when you inhale). In the former, your diaphragm (an important muscle in the breathing process) is pushed downward when you inhale, creating space in your chest cavity. You should feel your belly expand as you inhale. It promotes greater expansion of your rib cage and lungs, giving you a fuller, deeper breath. It takes a little practice to learn how to breathe like this while you’re running, but if you lie on your back and breathe, practice yoga, or even play a wind instrument, you’ll know what it feels and looks like.

Finally, remember not to slouch when you run. Lift your torso and chest and lean forward slightly. Form also can affect how you breathe.

A “natural” way to recover

If you’re in any stage of a recovery process (physical, mental, or spiritual) it may be helpful to get outside and spend some time in nature.

Exposure to a natural green environment can help reduce your stress levels and improve your health and well-being. So, feeling blue? Go green! Some of nature’s restorative benefits include improved positive mood, energy, and vitality; decreased anxiety, depressive thoughts, perceived stress, and hostility; as well as improved recovery times after surgery and less need for pain meds.

Exposure to nature can also reduce your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and stress hormones, as well as improve your sleep, immune function, and brain activity. Interestingly, people who live in neighborhoods where streets have more trees report feeling healthier, with fewer symptoms of poor health such as heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Neighborhood greenness has also been tied to longer life expectancy.

Depending on where you live, finding a natural environment can be tricky. You can find state and national parks online or look for local parks and gardens in your area. Even walking along a neighborhood street with lots of trees, spending more time viewing nature (through a window), or having indoor plants within view can make you feel better. You may want to experience nature on your own, with a buddy, or with a group of fellow service members or veterans. For group outdoor recreational activities, check out the Sierra Club Outdoors program (or, specifically, their Military Outdoors program). So if you’re feeling stressed, down, or not your usual self, get outside and go green!

Tunes and training

Do you listen to music when you exercise? Find out how it affects your workout.

Music can have a huge effect on your performance and mood during exercise. Without realizing it, most people push themselves harder or move faster during exercise when listening to fast-tempo music, which increases heart rate as well as speed, endurance, and in some cases the rate of perceived exertion. Exercisers also feel an improved sense of well-being when working out to music.

So why is it you prefer certain songs when you’re exercising? One explanation suggests that a part of your brain tries to match the movement of your body to the beat of the music. In fact, scientists have found that when you listen to music with about 125–140 beats per minute, both your heartbeat and your movements synchronize to work at the most energy-efficient, optimal level for exercise. In essence, the music works with your brain to coordinate your bodily functions and optimize your workout.

The best workout songs seem to share certain characteristics:

  • 125–140 beats per minute during exercise, but slower for warm-ups, cool-downs, and some endurance-type exercises
  • A motivational or upbeat message
  • Familiar tunes or a preferred style of music
  • A tempo that matches the rhythm of your exercise

Ask your buddies about their workout playlists too. They might have something totally different to offer—a new beat to stay fit with. So turn on, tune in, and train!

For more tips on how to optimize your workout, explore HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.

Moms-to-be: exercise for a healthier birth

There are many benefits of continuing to exercise while pregnant. Now you can add healthier birth weights and a reduced chance of C-section to the list!

Exercise leading up to and during pregnancy has many health benefits. Recently, the effects of exercising during pregnancy have been found to benefit the birth process as well. Regular exercise with pregnancy can contribute to a healthy birth weight for your baby without increasing the risk of premature birth. It may even decrease the risk of needing an unscheduled cesarean birth. For these reasons, continuing your exercise routine could help you have a healthier and safer birth. Staying active contributes to a healthier pregnancy. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight and establishes exercise habits that, if continued after your baby is born, help you get rid of the weight gained during pregnancy. There are many ways to keep up with your physical fitness during pregnancy while still keeping you and your baby safe.

What exactly is a “trigger point”?

What is a trigger point, and how can one be treated?

Does it ever feel like there’s a baseball in your calf? Or what about that tight spot under your should blade? This might be something called a trigger point, more commonly known as a “knot.” Even experts aren’t completely sure what they’re made of, but they seem to be caused by overuse and/or bad biomechanics (that is, bad posture).

Getting rid of these annoying knots usually involves massaging the heck out of them. If you can reach the knot, you can massage it yourself to try to loosen it up. Or you can use things like foam rollers or massage balls to help. If that still doesn’t work, you can talk to your doctor about other treatments such as ultrasound, physical therapy, dry needling, acupuncture, or injecting the knot with medicine.

Even with these treatments available, it’s important to first avoid actions that create trigger points, such as poor posture or exercising without warming up. Don’t confuse trigger points with the sore muscles which can occur after a workout (delayed onset muscle soreness). This kind of soreness is usually harder to pinpoint but will go away on its own after a couple days or less.

Also, make sure you’re exercising with proper form. Ask a certified personal trainer, if you’re not sure. Keep in mind that if your pain began with an accident or lasts after trying treatments at home, you should consult your physician or other healthcare provider. 

Breathe easy: summer outdoor exercise safety

Welcome to the dog days of summer. Hot, humid days can make exercising outdoors uncomfortable and sometimes unhealthy.

Exercising outside on hot summer days when the heat and humidity seem unbearable may be more harmful than helpful. Pollutants in the air (such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and ozone) can inflame your respiratory system more than usual, because on hot days you’re more likely to breathe faster and deeper and through your mouth (bypassing your nose’s natural filtration system).

However, the risks associated with not exercising at all are far greater than the risks of exercising outdoors. It may just take a little more planning on days and in conditions when pollution is bad. When planning outdoor exercise activities, follow these tips to limit your exposure to pollutants.

  • Avoid exercising in areas of heavy traffic, such as along highways and during rush hour.
  • During summer, exercise earlier in the morning, when ozone levels and temperatures are not as high.
  • Check the domestic or international air-quality ratings to determine if it’s safe to exercise outside. Limit your time outside on Code Red and Code Orange days. Environmental conditions on these days are not healthy, especially for children, the elderly, and people 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.

Recovery Care Coordinators can help!

Learn how Recovery Care Coordinators help service members during their recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration process after a serious or catastrophic wound, illness, or injury.

Recovery Care Coordinators (RCC) help wounded, ill, and injured service members, their caregivers, and their families navigate the recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration process. They help ensure a smooth transition from a recovery and rehabilitation setting back into the civilian community or, in some instances, back to military duty. An RCC is the first point of contact within each of the military services’ wounded warrior programs. RCCs are located at military treatment facilities and installations throughout the country and overseas. Referral to RCCs can come from the service member, a caregiver, a family member, medical personnel, or a wounded warrior program. For more information on the referral process (and for contact numbers), read this factsheet.

How do RCCs help support service members, their caregivers, and their families during what is often a difficult and stressful period in their lives? The RCC develops a comprehensive recovery plan (CRP) with the service member, caregivers, family members, and the recovery team to identify goals and resources needed to achieve those goals, such as assistive technology, education, employment, or housing.

The DoD Office of Warrior Care Policy is responsible for oversight, policy of the Recovery Coordination Program, and standardized training for all RCCs, but each military service branch implements its own Recovery Coordination Program in accordance with DoD policy. The terminology may differ with service (for example, advocate, care coalition, recovery care), but the mission and the standards are the same. Check out the following links for service-specific information:

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