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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Exergaming: Is it really exercise?

There are lots of exercise video games on the market, but should they really be considered exercise?

Between the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and the continuing popularity of video games among children, does exergaming actually count as physical activity? Exergaming, or exercise video gaming, is popular among children and adults because it offers entertainment and physical activity. Exergames include:

  • Virtual cycling
  • Interactive climbing machines
  • Aerobics, dancing, and floor games for multiple video game platforms
  • Mobile exercise games for smartphones and tablets

While it’s certainly fun, studies suggest that exergaming is not the best form of exercise for kids. It does increase energy expenditure (compared to rest), but it’s not necessarily enough to meet your children’s exercise needs. For example, when compared to a phys ed class, exergaming fell short. For the most part, kids who play exergames don’t burn enough calories or increase their heart rates enough to make up for exercising.

The good news about exergaming is that it can increase motivation and keep children engaged. It could be a great starting point for inactive children needing to begin a physical activity routine. It can be part of the daily-recommended doses of exercise and physical activity for kids and teens too. Families could find it as a fun alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie or TV show. Exergaming might be better than sitting and playing video games, but it shouldn’t replace more vigorous activities such as outside play. Save the exergaming for the next rainy or snowy day!

Winter dehydration

Heading out into the cold? Remember to stay hydrated!

Winter isn’t over yet, so here’s a reminder: You can get dehydrated in cold weather. And it isn’t always easy to hydrate, especially when you’re on a mission. If you’re active outside for less than 2 hours, it isn’t likely to be a problem. But if you’re out in the cold for hours or even days for a field deployment, the combination of heavy clothing and high-intensity exercise can lead to sweating, which contributes to dehydration.

You might not even feel as thirsty in cold weather as in the heat, because your cold-weather body chemistry could affect your brain’s ability to tell you when you need liquid. Cold weather also tends to move body fluids from your extremities to your core, increasing your urine output and adding to dehydration.

So when you’re in a cold climate, don’t rely on thirst to tell you when you need to drink. Drink often and before you’re thirsty. One way to determine your hydration status is to check the color and volume of your urine. (Snow makes a good test spot.) Dark, scanty urine indicates dehydration. Ideally, urine should be light yellow.

Water and sports drinks are the best fluids to maintain hydration, even in cold weather conditions. Carbonated and caffeinated beverages (including energy drinks) have a dehydrating effect because they increase urine flow. Also avoid consuming alcohol in cold weather. It might make you feel warm initially, but it can reduce your body’s ability to retain heat.

Enjoy exercising in the cold weather, but be sure to keep your water bottle in tow.

Choosing the right personal trainer

It’s important to know what to look for when you’re considering hiring a personal trainer.

Personal trainers can help you safely start and maintain an exercise routine. They can keep you motivated and accountable when it comes to reaching your fitness goals. Finding the right trainer can be challenging but important. Think of it like a date: get to know your potential trainer to find out if you’re compatible. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Education/Certifications. These days, anyone can become a personal trainer with a few mouse clicks. Is this person certified through one of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) such as National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT), American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), or National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)? These are widely accepted certifications. Better yet, does the trainer have a 4-year degree in kinesiology or exercise science? Is he/she certified in CPR and first aid?
  • Experience. We all have to start somewhere, but experience is helpful. How long has this person been a certified personal trainer? What types of clients does the trainer usually work with? Does he/she have expertise in sports conditioning, pre-natal fitness, or post-rehabilitation? If possible, ask clients (past and/or present) about their personal experiences.
  • Personality. You have to enjoy spending time with your trainer so that you’re fully committed to your training routine. Do you prefer a female or a male trainer? Someone close to your age? Choose somebody you like—someone who can motivate you.
  • Business practices/Liability. Before you begin, make sure you understand all payment policies and procedures. Are your schedules compatible? What’s the cancellation policy? Does the trainer carry professional liability insurance?
  • Fees. Personal trainers can be worth the money, but make sure you understand what you’re paying for. What are the costs? How long is each session? How often will you meet? Is it cheaper if you buy more sessions up front? Will you need to purchase a gym membership? 

Take it to heart

February is American Heart Month. Remember your fitness and nutrition goals to keep the most important muscle in your body healthy!

Heart disease is the #1 cause of death among adults in the U.S.—deadlier than any form of cancer. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight/obesity, family history, and smoking.

So what can you do to protect yourself protect yourself and your loved ones? First, know your risk factors. There are some things that you can’t change, such as your family history, sex, and age. But there are many things you CAN change through lifestyle choices.

Regular exercise can help you manage many risk factors such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. By now, you’ve probably forgotten about your New Year’s fitness resolutions! Get back on track: commit to at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least 5 days a week. You can even stay active at work!

Remember to make healthy food choices and manage your stress too. Check out the newest Dietary Guidelines for the latest recommendations on eating right. Reboot those fitness and nutrition resolutions to stay ready, resilient, and fit. 

Too sick to exercise?

Feeling under the weather? Find out when bed rest is best—or when it’s safe to sweat it out.

Is it safe to exercise when you’re sick? Those who have strict workout schedules aren’t likely to let the sniffles get in the way of their physical fitness. Exercise benefits include better weight control, improved mood, more energy, and healthier sleep. What’s more, just 30 minutes of regular exercise 5 times each week can improve your heart health and boost your immune system too.

 

Moderately exercising while you’re sick can be safe and, in certain cases, might actually improve symptoms such as congestion and low-energy. First, you need to determine “how sick is sick.” You can figure this out by using the “neck rule.” If you have symptoms above the neck—including sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, or watery eyes—then moderate workouts can continue. If your symptoms are below the neck—including cough, fever, fatigue, or body aches—then rest until the symptoms are gone. You can also use your temperature to determine whether exercising is okay. If you have a temperature of 101°F or higher, moderate or vigorous exercise isn’t safe due to risks of heat-related illnesses and dehydration.

 

Ultimately, the decision to exercise when you’re sick is up to you. If you’re too weak and fatigued to get out of bed, exercising might not be the best choice. If you have symptoms of a cold and your temperature is below 101°F, light to moderate exercise could be good for you. Make sure to see a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or get worse. 

Running form 101

Filed under: Exercise, Running
How’s your form? Make sure you’re ready to hit the ground—running!

Proper running form can help improve your overall efficiency and reduce your risk for injury. We’ve all seen awkward running forms—you can’t help but wince because it looks challenging and sometimes painful to run that way. Following a few simple reminders can keep you injury-free as you reach peak performance.

Running infographic

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. 

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