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How to breathe during exercise

Paying attention to how you breathe during exercise might boost your performance.

You probably don’t put a lot of thought in your breathing during exercise, except maybe during extra-hard workouts when you’re breathing hard. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to do it, but some methods are more efficient and can give you an extra boost in performance. During light-to-moderate exercise, people tend to inhale through their noses and exhale through their mouths. 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 their mouths 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). With diaphragmatic breathing, 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. Your running form also can affect how you breathe. Focusing on your breath can help you be mindful and aware of the activity or workout you’re doing as well.

Exercise boosts mental health

Learn how regular bouts of exercise can improve your physical health, mental health, and well-being.

Engaging in regular exercise is critical to maintaining optimal physical health and performance. Did you know that it also boosts your mental health and well-being? Some research suggests a strong connection between exercise and the prevention and treatment of psychological illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Exercise also might help increase positive mental states and support cognitive function throughout your life. In addition, Warfighters and their families can use daily physical activity to remain strong and mission-ready, increase resilience, and boost overall well-being. Read more...

Stand up for your health!

Is 30 minutes of exercise a day enough to keep the doctor away? What you’re doing the rest of the day can affect your health and performance too. Learn more.

Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day improves fitness and reduces your risk of chronic disease. But what you do for the other 23½ hours also can affect your health. Even though you’re getting the minimum amount of exercise, you’re at risk of “sitting disease,” if the rest of your day is spent doing sedentary activities such as sitting or sleeping. You’re still at risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses too. But there are ways to move more throughout your day.

The sedentary lifestyle

For many, a typical day is spent sitting or sedentary—whether you’re at your desk, in the car, at the dinner table, on the couch, or in bed. All this sedentary time puts you at greater risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer. The simple act of standing up has even more physiological benefits when compared to sitting. The “active couch potato” phenomenon shows that even people who are relatively fit and meet the minimum requirements for daily exercise still exhibit risk factors for metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases as sitting time increases.

Sure, you might take the dog out for its morning walk, or maybe you did PT before work. Still, the more time you spend sitting the rest of the day, the greater your risk of disease. According to this infographic from the American Institute for Cancer Research, even those who engage in moderate amounts of exercise and physical activity are still at risk of cancer if 12 or more hours in the rest of their day is spent seated or lying down.

 

Workplace workout

Time is often a major reason that people say they don’t get enough exercise or physical activity during their day. It’s true that work can get busy, but it might just take a little creativity to turn it into a productive and physically active workday. It’s still unclear exactly how much exercise offsets or reduces your risk from sitting, and more research is needed in this area. In the meanwhile, try these tips to help reduce your sedentary time:

  • Bike or walk to work, if possible. If you don’t live close enough to bike or walk the entire commute, try walking for at least part of your travel time. For example, park further from your building. Or choose a higher level in the parking garage.
  • Take walking breaks. Walk to a coworker’s office instead of calling or emailing. Suggest a walking meeting next time you and coworkers schedule a get-together. You could walk to a cafeteria, park, or nearby bench before eating lunch. Experts suggest that even 2 minutes of walking per hour can be beneficial, so set your timer and go.
  • Take the stairs. The more you climb, the easier it will get. Walk up and down escalators too instead of riding. Avoid elevators as much as possible.
  • Take small standing breaks. When your phone rings, you could stand up to answer it and remain standing during the call. When someone visits your workspace, stand during your conversation. Or consider switching to a standing desk in your office.
  • Use an activity tracker. Wearable technology can help remind you to stay active and keep moving.

Doing what you can to increase the amount of time you spend standing, exercising, and being physically active will improve your chances of a longer and healthier life.

Senior vets: Get your game on!

The National Veterans Golden Age Games will be held from May 7–11, 2017. Senior veterans with different abilities and disabilities are encouraged to participate. Learn more.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) embraces the motto “fitness for life,” emphasizing that physical fitness is important at every age. The VA also is encouraging older veterans to participate in the 31st annual National Veterans Golden Age Games. The multi-day event, a premier senior adaptive sport rehabilitation program, is open to veterans 55 years and older who are enrolled in the VA health care system.

Over 700 vets are expected to attend the multi-sport games in Biloxi, Mississippi from May 7–11, 2017. Competitive events include air rifle, badminton, bocce, bowling, cycling, golf, pickleball (a cross between Ping-Pong and tennis), and more.

Online registration is open until March 1, 2017, and events are filling up fast. Check out this video from last year’s games. Don’t delay: Register today!

Tai Chi for post-traumatic stress

Filed under: Exercise, PTSD, Tai Chi
Learn how this Asian form of exercise can be used to reduce the symptoms of PTS.

Tai Chi is a form of exercise and mind-body practice that can provide many physical, psychological, and social benefits. It can also be used to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS, formerly referred to as PTS). Tai Chi involves slow, gentle movements and controlled breathing. It can improve sleep, pain management, strength, and flexibility for many individuals. Practicing Tai Chi can also reduce depression, stress, and anger, which are often symptoms of PTS. The mental focus, relaxation and breathing techniques, and physical health benefits associated with Tai Chi might explain this reduction in depression and improvement in overall mood.

This Chinese form of exercise promotes relaxation and enhances alertness and attentiveness. Hyperarousal (that is, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, tense muscles, and sweating) is a common symptom of PTS, and Tai Chi can help individuals regulate their arousal levels. Tai Chi and other mind-body practices such as yoga and mindfulness can help individuals cope with chronic pain and health ailments that commonly accompany symptoms of PTS.

You don’t have to be diagnosed with PTS to experience the benefits of Tai Chi, though. It is a low-impact workout for anyone who would like to sweat a little and relax the mind. Also, it is offered at many MWR facilities on military bases around the world. If you would like to try it first in the comfort of your own home, there are videos online you can watch to get an idea of the practice and what it involves. Look at your gym schedule to see if Tai Chi is available to try out too!

Winter-workout tips

Make sure you’re prepared for exercising in the cold weather. Learn more.

It can be extra challenging to get outdoors and exercise in the winter. But don’t let cold temperatures freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to help you “weather” the winter weather!

  • 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 always can remove layers as you get warmer.
  • Warm up. Take a few minutes and do a dynamic warm up before you head outdoors. This will help warm up your muscles and body, so it might feel like less of a shock when you step outside.
  • Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather. Chemical heat warmers also can help keep your hands and feet warm.
  • 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 (negative numbers) or the temperature drops below 0°F. You’re at risk of hypothermia and frostbite if you’re not properly prepared.
  • Be visible. With fewer hours of sunlight in the winter months, you might be walking or running when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Wear reflective gear or a headlamp to stay visible to oncoming traffic.
  • 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 cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.

5 tips for sticking to your goals

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
New Year’s Day is behind us, but it’s never too late to revisit your resolutions or make new ones. These simple strategies can help you reach your performance goals.

Whatever you want to accomplish in 2017, those New Year’s resolutions are a good thing. Setting goals can help you achieve optimal performance. Use the tips below (based on recommendations from the American Psychological Association) to help you actually achieve those goals.

  1. One at a time. Trying to do everything at once can lead to burnout. Tackle one issue at a time instead: Break your goals into pieces you can build on.
  2. Start small. Pace yourself to go the distance. You might be eager to get started, but begin with the more manageable goals and build up to the really challenging ones.
  3. Share. Talk about your goals and progress with your family and friends. They can be your biggest supporters. It might help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and it even might interest them enough to join you.
  4. Ask your buddies. Getting help is a sign of strength. It can help reduce the stress of trying to reach your goals. If you’re struggling with one aspect of a goal, seek out advice and support. You also can get help from HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills, with evidence-based information that can help you progress towards your goals.
  5. Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection is an ever-moving—if not impossible—target, so don’t waste your time chasing it. Performance optimization is about being your best, not perfect. If you make mistakes, recover and get back on track—don’t abandon your goals. Learn from your mistakes instead, and you might find it brings your goals even closer.

For more information on how to become your best, check out HPRC’s Ten Rules of Engagement for performance enhancement.

Busting the “fat-burning zone” myth

What’s a “fat-burning zone”? Is it based on actual science?

You’ve probably seen those colorful charts on exercise machines at the gym, showing your ideal heart rate zone for optimal fat burn. Is this “zone” the best way to burn fat?

The concept of the “fat-burning zone” might not be entirely true. Many people assume that in order to burn fat, they must keep their heart rate within the defined range. This can be misleading for a few reasons. First, people’s heart rates are very different, making it difficult to generalize recommendations from a fixed chart. Second, your body burns two main sources of energy during exercise: fats and carbohydrates. (Protein is an energy source, but it’s only used in very small amounts.) For any given heart rate, your body will burn both carbohydrates and fats; however, the proportion of each will vary. Low-intensity exercises (lower heart rate) with a longer duration (30 minutes or more) mostly rely on fat for energy. So, there’s a zone in which a higher proportion of fat is being used for energy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more fat is being burned. Your body actually gets most of its energy from fat during rest. In theory, your ultimate “fat-burning zone” is in your living room: you lying on your couch, binge-watching your favorite new series.

So, how do you burn more fat? High-intensity exercises actually burn the most fat due to the higher overall energy (caloric) expenditure. Interval training is a great way to boost the intensity of your workout, and you get that “afterburn” effect. Fitness level also is a factor. Fitter people’s bodies tend to utilize more fats than carbohydrates.

If you’re training for endurance activities, the “fat-burning zone” on the exercise machines might be the “right zone” for you. To burn even more fat, you ultimately need to burn more overall calories. High-intensity workouts are a challenging and efficient way to help reach your goal.

Stop shin splints

Shin splints—sharp, sore, and/or throbbing pain that runs down the front of your shin—are common among those who exercise regularly. But how can you prevent them?

Shin splints can sideline you from your regular workouts, but there are things you can do to help relieve the pain and quickly resume your exercise routine. Shin splints—a common injury among athletes, particularly runners—refers to pain in the leg below the knee, usually on the medial (inside) part of your shin. This pain can be caused by micro-tears at the bone tissue, possibly caused by overuse or repetitive stress. The best way to prevent shin splints is: Don’t do too much, too soon.

Shin splints usually occur after sudden changes in exercise or physical activity, such as rapidly increasing your running mileage, boosting your workout frequency or intensity, or even varying changes in surface, such as running more hills. To help reduce your risk for shin splints, you can follow the 10% rule: Increase your workout no more than 10% per week. That applies to the number of miles you run and how often and how hard you work out.

Other factors that can influence your risk include worn-out shoes, over-pronation, and excessive stress on one leg from running on a cambered road (the curved, downward slope from the middle of a road to the edge for drainage). If you run an out-and-back route, while not always safest in street traffic, you can run on the same side of the road each way. Or use the sidewalk instead. If you often run on a track, switch the direction you run.

Shin splints will usually heal themselves with proper rest. Consider taking a break from your regular workout routine and cross train with lower-impact workouts such as swimming, pool running, or biking instead. Basic self-care treatments such as stretching, ice, and anti-inflammatories can help relieve pain. If the pain doesn’t improve with rest, or if the skin is hot and inflamed, see your doctor to make sure you don’t have a more serious injury such as a stress fracture or tendonitis.

Can exercise relieve chronic pain?

If you struggle with chronic pain, you might ask, “How can I exercise if I’m in pain?” or “Won’t exercise make it worse?” Read about exercising to reduce pain.

If you struggle with chronic pain, you might feel that exercise is futile: It hurts when you don't exercise and it hurts when you do. However, a properly structured exercise routine might help reduce some kinds of pain and keep other kinds from worsening.

It’s important to know the difference between chronic pain and injury-related pain. Acute pain—the body’s normal response to physical injury—usually can’t be relieved through exercise. In fact, exercise can worsen your acute pain, so it’s not recommended. But if injury has been ruled out and your pain lasts for more than 3 months, you might be able to partially manage or even reduce your chronic pain through exercise.

Still, exercise can help reduce pain in several ways. It mostly increases endorphins—the body's natural painkillers — which help block pain, enabling you to relax. Exercise also helps boost serotonin—a brain chemical partly responsible for mood and the perception of pain—reducing stress and improving mood. Pain increases stress, which then reduces serotonin. Since exercise increases serotonin, it also might bring relief from pain-induced depression.

If you’re thinking of adding exercise to your pain management plan, consider the following types: aerobic, strength, and flexibility. But make sure your exercise program is specifically tailored to your needs. Some exercises might be easier or more difficult to complete depending upon the type and location of your pain.

Visit HPRC’s Physical Fitness section for information about training, exercise, and injury prevention. And consult your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise routine and if you experience pain during or after exercise. 

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