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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
Exercise is an important lifestyle tool to help reduce your risk for breast and other cancers such as lung and colon cancer. While your genetics play a role in the development of some breast cancers, research has found that regular exercise can reduce your risk by an average of 25%. It may even improve your chance of recovery if you’ve already been diagnosed. Gentlemen take note: Men can get breast cancer too.
It’s never too late to start getting active. While exercise at any age can reduce your risk for breast cancer, the greatest benefit seems to be for adult women, especially those over the age of 50. It’s important to be physically active throughout the day, not just when you’re exercising. Even household, recreational, and occupational activities can have an impact on reducing risk for breast cancer.
Of course, early detection can be critical for dealing with breast cancer. Make sure you conduct regular breast self-exams. If you find anything that worries you, talk to your doctor right away.
If you have already been diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to your doctor about what kinds of activities are safe for you to do while undergoing treatment. Exercise and physical activity during cancer treatment also can be healthy for mind and body, can manage fatigue, and may lower the risk of progression. Just another reason to get out and get active!
The Female Athlete Triad is a health condition that commonly affects physically active girls, teens, and women, especially those involved in activities that have a heavy emphasis on weight and physical appearance. It’s characterized by energy deficiency, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss), which can leave you tired, anxious, and unmotivated—an equation for poor performance. It can also put you at risk for serious health problems such as muscle loss, dehydration, and stress fractures.
Female service members can be at risk for developing the Triad if they don’t get enough calories (underfueling) and if training is too intense. But you can prevent it easily by focusing on your overall health and nutrition rather than your weight and by following these tips:
- Eat when you’re hungry and include a variety of nutrient-rich foods such as lean sources of protein—lean fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products—along with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Skipping meals and snacks or severely restricting your food intake will keep you from getting enough calories and other important nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals.
- Eat a recovery snack that consists of carbs and protein after your workout. Carbs are your body’s primary fuel source to keep you energized, and you need protein to build and repair your muscles.
- Talk to a registered dietitian (RD) for an individual nutrition plan. An RD who specializes in sports nutrition can help you choose the best foods and the right amounts to optimize your performance.
Remember, food is the fuel that helps you to perform at your best. For more, read this handout from the Female Athlete Triad Coalition.
Listen up, ladies! Women are more likely to engage in physical activity if they do it as part of a group and if they have friends who are active. Whether you’re looking for a group exercise class, a spotter for strength training, or a partner to join you on your run, social support from friends or family increases your chances of sticking to an exercise plan.
Women also enjoy activities more when they’re done with others instead of alone. Feeling better about a workout leads to more minutes of exercise per week too. Surround yourself with others who want to stay fit and have similar goals. You can decide whether you want to join an organized exercise group or keep it small and informal by asking one of your friends to participate in an exercise routine. Either way, get motivated!
For more about Women’s Health Month, visit the Military Health System website during October.
Training on the treadmill and “overground” running are not the same. If you’ve experienced treadmill running and find yourself more tired afterwards than you would on an outdoor run, you’re not alone. It seems athletes actually run slower on a treadmill than their normal pace outside, yet they perceive treadmill running as being more exhausting. In other words, even though it feels more difficult, treadmill running is usually less intense and less physically challenging than running outdoors.
If you’re training for an outdoor race, ideally you should run most of your training miles outside. However, running indoors can be helpful if you’re recovering from an injury since running on a treadmill is easier on your joints than running outside on concrete or even grass. When you want or need to run indoors on a treadmill, set the incline at 1–2% to increase your exertion level to more closely replicate your outdoor runs.
If you decide to run outside during a cold spell, take a look at our article with tips for staying safe in cold weather and the many resources on cold environments where you can find more ways to keep warm and hydrated even in frigid weather. Remember: Whether you stay in or venture out, any exercise is better than none!
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.