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Don’t be a boob!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Learn about early detection and prevention.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month; but what’s important is that, after October is over and the sea of pink has ebbed, you turn your awareness into action if you haven’t done so already. Gentlemen take note: Men can get breast cancer too. 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.

While your genetics play a role in the development of some breast cancers, exercise is also an important lifestyle tool to reduce your risk for this and other cancers such as lung and colon cancer. It may even improve your chance of recovery if you’ve already been diagnosed. Numerous studies have found that regular exercise can reduce your risk for breast cancer by an average of 25%.

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. Studies have shown that sitting and other sedentary behaviors for long periods of time can negate the effects of regular exercise, for general health and cancer prevention. The good news is that household and recreational activities, followed by walking/cycling and occupational activities, have the greatest impact on reducing risk for breast cancer.

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. 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. Just another reason to get out and get active! 

Help your kids be healthy through regular exercise

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. A great way to combat obesity is through a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise.

Regular exercise can build strong muscles and bones and promote overall health. It is especially important that children exercise and learn healthy habits early on. Exercise can also boost kids’ self-esteem, improve sleep, and stimulate learning in school. But do you know what kinds of exercise your children or teens should be doing? Check out HPRC’s Answer, “Put some fun in your children’s fitness,” to find out. And visit the COAM website to learn more about the American College of Sports Medicine’s National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

How does air pollution affect physical performance?

It is known that exposure to air pollutants during exercise may affect your health and performance, but what can you do about it?

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.

Can exercise help prevent suicide?

Exercise can greatly enhance mental health and well-being, but can it play a part in suicide prevention?

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?

Men’s Health Awareness Month

Gentlemen, start your exercises! Engaging in physical activity can reduce your risk for certain cancers.

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.

Tunes and training

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

Do you exercise to music? If you do, you might have noticed that you run faster when a fast-paced, upbeat tune comes on.

Exercise scientists noticed the relationship between exercise and music some time ago. For those of us who aren’t trained athletes, music can have a huge effect on our performance and mood during exercise. Without realizing it, people push themselves harder 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, 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; slower for warm-ups, cool-downs, and for 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.

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

Safe moving tips to spare your back

Here’s a reminder about how to lift heavy objects properly and protect your back when loading your moving truck during a PCS.

Many Warfighters relocate a lot, and moving to a new home is hard enough without the added stress of an injury. Here are some tips on how to properly lift and push/pull heavy objects such as moving boxes and furniture, and how to take care of yourself if you do sustain an injury:

  • Wear less-restrictive clothing such as looser-fitting pants or workout clothes.
  • Wear closed-toed shoes.
  • Take breaks when necessary. Stretching and reassessing your mechanics can help you maintain proper posture when lifting. HPRC has tips on how to maintain flexibility and remove tension in your body.
  • The U.S. Army has some additional Lifting Techniques for handling heavy objects.
  • Remember to keep your core tight and use your leg muscles rather than your back to lift heavy objects.

The best way to prevent back injury is to strengthen your back and core muscles. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has suggestions and exercises to help build your back.

If you’re sore from all the lifting or think you may have pulled something, you can treat the pain with ice and rest—and perhaps an over-the-counter pain reliever—for the first 48 hours. Follow the NIH guidelines on how to further treat your back pain if it’s acute. However, if the pain persists, consult your doctor to rule out a more serious back problem or injury before you do any more heavy lifting. If all seems well, consider core-strengthening exercises to support your back. Taking a yoga class to relieve your pain, build your muscles, and return your back to normal function is a good option. In a recent large study of adults with chronic low back pain, those who participated in yoga classes saw reduced pain symptoms and improved mobility that lasted for several months.

For more about how to protect your back, please visit HPRC’s Injury Prevention Series. Good luck with your PCS!

Armed Forces Sports: Are you game?

Have you considered playing an organized sport for one of the military branches? DoD’s Armed Forces Sports offers opportunities in 25 team and individual sports for men and women. Check it out and see if you can take your game to the next level.

Are you tired of the usual morning jog or bike ride? Maybe you have a talent in a particular sport and want to take it up a notch to earn a spot on one of the Armed Forces Sports teams. You’ll find sports such as basketball and soccer, as well as sports at the more extreme end of the spectrum such as parachuting and Tae Kwon Do. One objective of the AFS program is to encourage physical fitness through sports competitions. Another is to provide means for military athletes to participate nationally and internationally. AFS holds U.S. and world championships, and in 2012 some athletes even took part in the London Olympics! If you are considering training for one of these teams, check out the Training & Exercise section of HPRC’s website.

HPRC’s Vertical Core Series

Vertical core training is a great way to change up your workout routine and improve your performance.

It’s time to get up off the floor and add something new your core-workout routine. Crunches aren’t the only way to strengthen your core. The Human Performance Resource Center now offers a six-video YouTube series on Vertical Core Training. Your core is more than just your abs; it includes other muscles that stabilize your shoulders, hips, and pelvis. Whether it’s lifting ammo cans or loading a truck, a strong core will help you move safely and efficiently. Use these videos to guide you through various exercises that will help improve total core strength and stability for everyday activities and optimal performance. You can also find these videos and other training resources online in HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.

Those last 10 pounds—the weight-loss plateau

Struggling to lose those last few pounds? Here are some tips to help you get past the plateau and back on track to achieving your goal.

You’re watching what you eat. You’re exercising regularly. You’re doing everything right. But for some reason, your weight-loss goal is just out of reach. It seems those “last 10 pounds” are often the hardest ones to shake! Fortunately, with continued effort and persistence, you likely can achieve your weight-loss goals.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to make sure the goals you’ve set for yourself are realistic, healthy, and sustainable. After that, it’s time to get to work.

Go back to square one. That is, make sure you’re as careful about what you choose to eat now as when you first started on your weight-loss journey. Sometimes we lapse into old habits over time and start “allowing” unhealthy choices to creep back into our diet patterns. Keeping a food diary will help you keep track of what you’re really eating. And don’t forget to watch your portion sizes.

Be a weekend warrior. Many people find it harder to make healthy choices on the weekend—tailgate parties, family celebrations, and road trips all offer opportunities to “slip.” But eating healthy is a full-time job, so it’s important to plan ahead: Take a low-fat dish that you’ve prepared and choose restaurants where you know you’ll have healthy options available.

Stand up for yourself. Literally. Standing, rather than sitting, can burn as many as 200 to 300 calories per day and can help prevent many types of disease. Find as many opportunities in your day to stand, walk, and move as much as you can. Check out HPRC’s blog about “sitting disease” for more information about the risks of sitting too much.

Shake things up. Varying the type and intensity of your exercise is a great way to challenge yourself and prevent boredom—and can make a big difference toward achieving your goals.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important not only in the short term (for your performance as well as your career) but also in the long term, reducing your risk of many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

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