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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
Inhalation of major air pollutants has been found to decrease lung function and exacerbate symptoms of exercise-induced bronchospasms, including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In order to meet oxygen demands during light- to moderate-intensity exercise, you take in more air with each breath. And when you breathe through your mouth, you bypass the nose’s natural filtration of large particles and soluble vapors. As your exercise intensity increases, you breathe faster and deeper, which also increases the amount of pollution inhaled and the depth it travels into your respiratory system.
If you live in or near a busy city, you are exposed to even more combustion-related pollutants—such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), and ozone—that can inflame your airways and worsen asthmatic responses. Exposure to freshly generated emissions is most common near areas of high vehicular traffic.
While indoor exercise is often a good alternative to limit exposure to outdoor pollutants, some indoor conditions may be just as toxic. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—the more toxic NOx—is usually higher in gas-heated homes and indoor areas with poor ventilation. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also more likely to occur indoors. When carbon monoxide is in your system, the blood carries substantially less oxygen, reducing performance and eventually leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to choose well-ventilated areas for indoor exercise.
Particulate matter and ozone are two significant pollutants you may be exposed to outdoors. Inhalation of high levels of particulates has been shown to reduce exercise performance as much as 24.4% during short-term, high-intensity cycling. Women may be more vulnerable than men to certain particulates, associated with greater decrements in performance. Ultrafine particle concentrations are highest in freshly generated automobile exhaust, and these small particles can be carried deep into the lungs. However, the further away you are from fresh exhaust, the less concentrated the particulates.
Bad ozone occurs lower in the atmosphere; it is not directly emitted into the air but is created from chemical reactions between NOx, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heat, and sunlight. Ozone levels also are higher in summer than in winter; and especially in larger, hotter cities, concentrations tend to peak around midday when solar radiation is highest. Exposure to ozone during exercise has been found to increase resting blood pressure, reduce lung function, and decrease exercise capacity.
The risks associated with not exercising at all are far greater than the risks of exercising outdoors; it just takes 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.
Suicide is a complex issue with many contributing factors, including mental health issues. Focusing on treating mental health issues and strengthening mental fitness is key for suicide prevention. Currently, efforts within the military focus on education, early intervention, decreasing stigma towards mental health treatments, and adapting a holistic approach to fostering mental fitness—which includes exercise. Learn more about how physical activity and regular exercise can improve mental health in HPRC’s answer to “Can exercise be a part of suicide prevention?”
Antigravity treadmills are becoming increasingly popular in injury prevention and rehabilitation settings. These special treadmills reduce the stress placed on the lower body during rehabilitative exercises, like running and walking, while still conditioning muscles. However, there are still questions as to whether the scientific evidence supports their considerable cost. For more about the use, evidence, and cost of these devices, read HPRC’s “Effectiveness of Antigravity Treadmills for Injury Rehabilitation.”
Whether training for a mission, an athletic event, or simply to maintain your edge, there are strategies you use to enhance your chance of success, including “rules” such as figuring out where you are before you start and setting up an environment that supports your new plan. Check out HPRC’s new card, “Peak Performance: Rules of Engagement,” to learn all of them. And for even more information, check out the accompanying Performance Strategies.
The Military Health System has declared that June is Men’s Health Awareness Month. Understanding your personal health risk factors and getting screened for potential issues is the best way to stay healthy at any age. Prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers are the three most common cancers among men. The good news is that exercise and physical activity have been liked to lower risk and lower rates of death for these types of cancers. So stay active and visit a doctor for regular health screenings, and pass on to the boys in your life about the importance of regular exercise and physical activity. Living a healthy lifestyle and getting screened for health issues are important ways to maintain readiness, resilience, and optimal performance.
More than two million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, and the number is growing. Skin cancer is a major public health issue, and with proper precautions you can decrease your risk considerably. Hopefully this information on sun safety will help you, whether you are a Warfighter or dependent, stay safe during all outdoor activities!
Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has been identified as the most important risk factor for both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Exposure to UVR weakens the skin’s elasticity and can result in sagging cheeks, deeper facial wrinkles, skin discoloration, burn, skin aging, photosensitivity, and cancer. Taking steps to safeguard yourself is crucial, especially when participating in outdoor activities or exercising.
Sweating increases the skin’s sensitivity to the sun’s rays, magnifying the risk of sunburn and skin damage. Athletes who practice outdoor sports have been found to be at increased risk for skin cancer. Remember—the weather does not have to be sunny and hot for you to get sun damage. Ultraviolet rays penetrate clouds, exposing you to 80% of the UVR. Even skiers and mountain climbers are at risk for sun exposure and skin cancer because of the stronger UVR at altitude.
Follow these precautions from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) whether training for the PRT, patrolling, road marching, or participating in a summer league softball game:
Avoid burning. Avoid sun tanning. Also, try to avoid sun exposure during midday (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) when the rays are the strongest.
Seek shade. When possible, especially during midday, seek shade under a tree or tent.
Cover up. Wear protective clothing, including hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants when going outdoors. Keep in mind protection decreases when clothes are wet.
Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand. Ultraviolet rays can reflect off of these surfaces, which can increase your chance of sun exposure and skin damage.
Apply sunscreen. Use water-resistant sunscreen and apply 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure to allow for it to absorb. Also, reapply after swimming, sweating, or toweling off. Be sure to take a look at the new FDA regulations regarding sunscreens and their effectiveness.
Wear sunglasses. Protect your eyes when working, driving, participating in sports, taking a walk, or running an errand. Solar ultraviolet B radiation can cause an increased risk of cataracts and cancer of the skin around the eye without proper cover.
It’s always important to remember hydration when engaging in outdoor activities as well! HPRC has useful tips on hydration and the consumption of sports drinks and caffeine during exercise in the heat.
Have you heard of Total Force Fitness, but you aren’t sure what it is? It’s a framework for building and maintaining health, readiness, and performance in the Department of Defense. It views health, wellness, and resilience as a holistic concept that recognizes “total fitness” as a “state in which the individual, family and organization can sustain optimal well-being and performance under all conditions”—a connection between mind, body, spirit, and family/social relationships. Total fitness shifts the perspective from treatment to wellness and focuses on prevention and strengths.
The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury created a slide presentation for units and groups on Total Force Fitness: A Brief Overview that describes what TFF is, its core components, and each of its eight “domains” (behavioral, social, physical, environmental, medical and dental, spiritual, nutritional, and psychological). For more in-depth reading, check out the original Military Medicine Supplement that started it all, including a scholarly chapter for each domain.
In recognition of National Physical Fitness and Sports month, Army garrisons across the globe are teaming up for the 4th Annual Strong B.A.N.D.S (Balance, Activity, Nutrition, Determination, and Strength) campaign under the Army MWR program. The campaign hopes to enhance community resilience through awareness of the health and fitness opportunities available to Warfighters and their families. Participating garrisons will host events such as volleyball games, swimming events, and golf tournaments. The Human Performance Resource Center has teamed up with Strong B.A.N.D.S to provide information cards on topics such as diet, injury prevention, and supplement safety to help you stay strong, ready, and resilient!
Check out the Strong B.A.N.D.S video montage from past years to get an idea what to expect!
If you’ve ever had a back injury, you know that the recovery process can take weeks, months, or even years—this is referred to as a chronic condition. Preventing injuries to the back can save you from going down this long road to recovery. Check out our new article on back injuries that includes tips on lifting heavy objects, strengthening the muscles of the back, and maintaining adequate flexibility in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Your knees are major weight-bearing joints and require some ongoing care to keep them functioning well, regardless of your MOS or sport activities. A new HPRC article on knee injuries provides information on knee-injury prevention. We focused on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) because this injury is quite common in the military and can put a soldier on profile for six months or even more. ACL injuries typically require surgery, so it’s an injury you want to avoid, if possible. Scientists and researchers have discovered some specific information that can be useful to decrease your risk of ACL injuries.