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Filed under: Exercise

Moms-to-be: Keep the “active” in active duty

Pregnancy is a special time for most women, but it can be especially challenging for women in the military. Exercise before, during, and after pregnancy to help keep you and your baby healthy.

There are more than 200,000 women in the military today—almost 15% of active duty members. Not surprisingly then, pregnancy in the military has become a hot health topic as more and more women choose to serve. Even though most women should exercise during pregnancy, pregnant women still engage in less physical activity than their non-pregnant counterparts. Being active during pregnancy has a lot of health benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight and reducing risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, stress, operative or assisted deliveries, and labor time. Remember this very important message – Don’t ignore pain or fatigue; listen to your body and consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns!

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that healthy pregnant women engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 150 minutes a week, which comes out to around 20-30 minutes a day. Women who already engage in vigorous-intensity exercise can continue physical activity at this level as long as they remain healthy and check with their healthcare provider about when to adjust activity levels (and what limits they should keep in mind). A healthy fetus is not adversely affected even by vigorous exercise, but be careful that you don’t overdo it. Remember that your body is changing with pregnancy—it may take more effort to do the same exercises you did before you were pregnant, and you may not realize when you’re pushing yourself too hard. Monitor your heart rate and use tools such as the talk test to gauge intensity. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has adopted the age-based heart rate ranges for pregnant women from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.

After giving birth, you may find that the “baby weight” gained during pregnancy is stubbornly hanging around.  Excess weight carries a whole host of adverse health risks, so keep moving—even walking for 45 minutes three to four times per week at low to moderate intensity can reduce risk of chronic disease. As with any exercise program, resuming activity after giving birth should be a gradual process (after consulting with your Doctor).

Certain general precautions should be taken with exercise during pregnancy. Avoid contact sports and exercises that increase the risk of falling. Avoid exercises that require stomach-down (supine) positions, with the exception of swimming during pregnancy, which doesn’t place stress on your joints like other forms of exercise do. Regular exercise before you get pregnant can help you prepare for the physical changes that occur during pregnancy and keep you ready and resilient for your family and your military service.

If you’re pregnant, keep in mind there isn’t any consensus about exercising at altitude, so it’s even more important to know the symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Take time to acclimatize if you travel to altitudes above 2500 meters and allow two or three days before exercising moderately. Wait for complete acclimatization before engaging in heavy exercise.

First and foremost, however, if you become pregnant, consult with your healthcare provider before starting or continuing any exercise routine. Also, each service branch has its own policies regarding pre- and post-natal exercise (available via HPRC’s pregnancy resources page).

Exercise for the rest of us!

Just because you’re not an active-duty Warfighter doesn’t mean you don’t need exercise. Use these guidelines to make sure you’re getting enough.

Getting enough exercise is important to everyone’s mental and physical health in order to achieve optimal performance. Active-duty Warfighters usually get enough exercise in the course of their mission, but for the rest of us in the sphere of the military—family members, desk warriors, and the like—it can take more effort, so sometimes it’s helpful to review.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that:

Aerobic exercise: For health benefits, adults should do at least 2.5 hours (or 150 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise.

  • For the greatest health benefits, adults should do aerobic exercise of moderate intensity for five hours, or 300 minutes, weekly, or 2.5 hours or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or an equivalent combination of both.
  • Do aerobic activity for at least 10 minutes at a time, preferably spread throughout the week.
  • Don’t know how to gauge your exercise intensity? Check out ACSM’s video on aerobic intensity or the description from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Examples of moderate-intensity activities include walking at three miles an hour, water aerobics, biking less than 10 mph, and gardening; vigorous-intensity activities include jogging or running, swimming laps, singles tennis, biking more than 10 mph, jumping rope, and hiking. Another method for determining exercise intensity is to keep track of your heart rate; use this explanation from CDC for how to determine your target heart rate for various activity levels.
  • A general guideline for time spent exercising is that two minutes of moderate-intensity activity is equal to one minute of vigorous-intensity activity.
  • For exercise ideas, check out ACSM’s video on types of aerobic exercise and/or HPRC’s Performance Strategies on Rebuilding Cardiovascular Fitness.

Strength training: Do muscle-strengthening exercises (resistance of moderate or high intensity) that involve all major muscle groups at least twice a week.

Finally, remember to stretch after your workouts. For some basic ideas on stretching, check out ACSM’s pictorial sheet, their video on stretching basics, or HPRC’s Performance Strategies to “Improve your flexibility.”

Be an advocate for healthy, “Fit Kids”!

Let someone at your children’s school know that they can get free help with physical education for grades 3 through 8 through the Operation Fit Kids program.

Do you see physical education classes decreasing in your children’s schools compared to the PE you had when you were younger? Do you want to help your children be active and eat healthier, but you don’t know where to start? Tell your children’s school about the American Council on Exercise (ACE) program called Operation Fit Kids, which consists of two curricula for educators (free to download after completing a survey): one for 3rd to 5th graders and another for 6th to 8th graders. They provide seven lessons with lesson plans, worksheets, and activities a group can do to learn and practice being healthy. After all, practice makes perfect!

If you are interested in additional tips for promoting family fitness, check out HPRC’s Family domain for more ideas. And for even more exercises to try with your family, visit ACE’s online Exercise Library.

Celebrate family fitness!

USAF FitFamily helps families “Get up. Get out. Get fit. Together.”

Make family fitness a fun affair with tips, games, goal trackers, and incentives from USAF FitFamily! Families can use the website’s resources to set family fitness goals and then track progress. And check out the recipes and activity ideas that can add a little fun to getting healthy—you can even submit photos. To begin, watch FitFamily’s online video, which describes the different resources available on the website. It also provides information on activities that are available at local Air Force installations, such as community resources, outdoor adventures, and family activities.

Interested in more family fitness information? Visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain for more resources.

Add some water to your workout

Try changing up your exercise routine; give your body a break with a challenging pool workout.

Water/pool workouts and swimming are great ways to give aching joints a break or recover from an injury and still get in a good workout. Exercising in the water provides the same aerobic fitness benefits as exercising on land. In fact, exercising in water may be less work for your heart; it pumps out more blood per beat, and heart rates are slightly slower. What’s more, pressure from the water speeds blood flow back to your heart, where your blood gets the oxygen that your muscles need during exercise.

Aquatic exercise is great for most people, including older and younger folks. Consider jumping in a pool to reduce stress and the risk for overuse injuries and as an alternative to your usual exercise routine.

Treadmills for trekkers

When conditions aren’t ideal for an outdoor hike, move your walking inside to a treadmill. Just make a few adjustments to ensure you’re getting a workout comparable to your regular hike.

Hiking is a great form of exercise and a great way to get outdoors and enjoy some scenery—especially when getting ready for deployment to challenging terrain. If the weather outside is less than ideal, however, or the winter temperatures become too frigid, you may need to move your hiking indoors to a treadmill. Keep in mind that you might not be working as hard on a treadmill as you would be hiking outside at your regular pace. Hiking requires different, often heavier footwear and involves a more diverse, varied terrain, both of which require more energy than walking in sneakers on a treadmill. If you want the same benefits, your treadmill needs to be set to at least a 3% incline for any speed up to 3.1 miles per hour to be comparable to what you expend hiking outside. You can still train for that mountain trek in bad weather—you’ll just need to make some slight adjustments. Happy trails…or treadmilling!

Physical activity and sickle cell trait

Sickle cell trait is a largely benign condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Researchers are looking into its role in serious conditions such as sudden death and exertional rhabdomyolysis in athletic and military populations.

Approximately 300 million people around the world have sickle cell trait (SCT), including approximately 9% of African Americans. It is a hereditary condition in which red blood cells are affected, but most people who have it never experience symptoms. (It is important to note that SCT is not the same as sickle cell disease [SCD]. Sickle cell disease [or sickle cell anemia] can lead to other serious clinical risks and can cause severe symptoms. Those with the SCD usually have a shorter lifespan.)

Individuals with SCT usually can participate in normal physical activity and sports, as SCT doesn’t seem to adversely affect performance. In fact, some studies have found that those with SCT excel in short-distance power activities such as sprinting and jumping.

While SCT is largely a benign condition, there have been related complications such as exertional rhabdomyolysis and exercise-related sudden death. They have been found in non-SCT individuals as well, but they occur at higher rates in those with SCT and are a “hot topic” in military, and civilian communities; the National Collegiate Athletic Association even requires screening for all its Division I and II athletes.

It has been suggested that those with SCT may be more prone to sudden death from dehydration, heat illness, and high-intensity exercise; however, these factors and the role of prevention standards, medications, and the use of dietary supplements are still being studied. In both military and civilian SCT populations, collapsing during exercise is most commonly observed during times runs and sprints within the first few weeks of conditioning. SCT Recruits who have difficulty passing the Physical Readiness Test are also at higher risk for collapse. Military leaders should be aware of safe training guidelines and take universal precautions. Effective prevention tactics include heat acclimatization, hydration, gradual physical conditioning, and addressing progressively worse symptoms early on.

All newborns in the United States are screened for both SCT and SCD as part of a public health imperative. Each military branch has its own policies regarding SCT. The Army does not screen for SCT but promotes universal precautions for all soldiers, whereas the Air Force, Navy, and Marines all screen for SCT after accession. Further testing and counseling may be done for those who are positive for SCT. If you are unsure about SCT and exercise, consult with your physician, especially if you are starting a new exercise routine.

Five simple strategies for sticking to your goals

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, 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.

If you’re looking to get healthier, stronger, more energetic, or less injury-prone, setting goals can help you achieve this type of optimal performance. Use the American Psychological Association’s five tips for “Making your New Year's resolutions stick“ regardless of the time of the year.

  1. 1. One at a time. Doing everything at once can lead to burnout. Tackle one issue at a time by breaking your goals into pieces to build on.
  2. 2. Start small. Pace yourself to go the distance. You may be eager to get started on your performance goals, but start with manageable goals and build up to the more challenging ones.
  3. 3. Share. Talk about your goals and progress with family and friends, as they can be your biggest supporters. It may also help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish and might interest them enough to join you.
  4. 4. Ask your buddies. Getting help is a sign of strength. It can help reduce the stress of trying to achieve your goals. If you know you are struggling with one aspect of your goal, the best thing to do is seek out advice and support. Use resources such as HPRC's Mind Tactics to get accurate information that can help you progress towards your goals.
  5. 5. Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection, if not impossible, is an ever-moving target. Don’t waste your time chasing it. Performance optimization is about being at your best, not achieving perfection. How you recover from mistakes matters—don’t abandon your goals. Learn from your mistakes instead and get back to your goals.

For more information on how to become the best that you can be, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies: Ten Rules of Engagement for performance enhancement.

Want to be super fit? Try SuperTracker

It can be hard to stay motivated and keep yourself accountable to your fitness goals. This online interactive tool can help keep you on track to getting in shape.

The USDA’s SuperTracker is an interactive, online tool that will help you set personal fitness goals as well as log and track your exercise habits and progress. Create a personal profile to manage your weight, record your fitness activities, and keep a food diary. SuperTracker offers tips, support, and detailed feedback to keep you on a healthy path in 2013 and beyond. Start the New Year off on the right foot—and then the left foot, and then the right foot again!

Is 10,000 steps/day enough?

For years, the question has been debated whether 10,000 steps a day are enough to result in health benefits.

Individuals who have incorporated the recommendation of 10,000 steps a day into their lives have seen positive changes in their health, including weight loss, lower blood pressure, decreased risk for diabetes, lower cholesterol, and better psychological health. Many organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommend walking 10,000 steps—or approximately five miles—a day for optimal health. Having a goal of 10,000 steps will get you, your family, and friends moving more every day, which reduces health risks.

A pedometer is an easy way to start counting your steps! Turn it into a fun, inexpensive challenge for your family or colleagues—see who can get the most steps in a day or week. It might be harder than you think. Here are some tips from the American Heart Association to help you get to 10,000.

Walking 10,000 steps a day is just one of many strategies you can use to increase your health and wellness. Check out HPRC’s Family Fitness and Physical Fitness sections for more ideas.

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