Filed under: Exercise
Reports estimate that one of every four deaths is attributed to heart disease. Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) activities such as jogging, cycling, and swimming directly improve the function of the heart, which decreases the risk of coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, and type II diabetes. Aerobic fitness is important enough that all active-duty service members must complete an aerobic fitness assessment, such as a maximal effort timed run, as part of their annual physical fitness test.
To delve a little deeper about the changes your heart, lungs, and blood vessels undergo when you improve your aerobic fitness, read on. One important change that occurs is that your heart’s “stroke volume”—the amount of blood the heart pumps out with each beat—increases. This comes from an increase in your heart’s strength and ability to hold a greater amount of blood. This in turn reduces your heart rate (HR) both at rest and at all levels of exercise. In fact, with consistent training, your resting HR could likely decrease as much as eight to10 beats per minute. That’s about 5 million fewer heartbeats in a year! Simply put, aerobic training means your heart has to do less work to get your job done.
Changes also occur to your blood and blood vessels with aerobic fitness. Your blood vessels increase in diameter and are better able to expand and constrict. This allows blood to move through your blood vessels with less resistance, reducing your blood pressure. And what happens to your blood? The levels of plasma (the liquid portion of the blood), red blood cells, and hemoglobin all increase, which means that your blood can carry more oxygen.
Altogether, the physiological changes mentioned here should make it easy to see why aerobic exercise is so important. If you want to learn more about how to get started improving your cardiorespiratory health through exercise, visit these Performance Strategies from HPRC.
If you want improve your PFT and/or CFT score then try performing a dynamic warm up before the test. While there is still much debate around a pre-exercise warm-up, a recent review of the literature specific to military testing found that dynamic warm-up and dynamic stretching might improve your fitness test performance. Overall, dynamic warm-ups appear to improve pull-ups, push-ups, power, flexibility, and aerobic performance. In addition, prior to the dynamic warm-up, an aerobic warm-up such as about five to 10 minutes of light jogging, swimming, or cycling sees to have an overall beneficial effect on cardiovascular assessments such as sprinting and running. On the other hand, static stretching (the kind you stretch and hold) appears to have a negative effect on exercise performance in trained populations. If range of motion is needed, then static stretching might be the most beneficial type of warm-up. Most services no longer test for the sit-and-reach, but there are some commands that continue with this testing modality. While nothing will help you more than properly training for your fitness assessments, doing the little things on testing day may help you achieve peak performance.
The purpose of the 2011 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel (HRB) is to assess the health practices of active-duty service members. Substance abuse, mental and physical health, and lifestyle choices are important matters, especially when you need to be at your best for the demands of military life. Certain areas of this study directly affect human performance, and results (as reported in the Executive Summary) show that health behaviors vary between services.
Physical Activity/Body composition
Here are some figures from the Physical Activity/Body Composition portion:
- Overall, service members have lower rates of obesity (as defined by BMI) compared to the general public.
- More than one-third of active-duty service members age 20 and older were considered to be at a healthy weight, which exceeds the Healthy People goal as well as civilian population estimates.
- 75% of active-duty members practiced moderate to vigorous physical activity in the 30 days prior to the survey, with Army and Navy personnel having the highest rates.
- Almost half of service members do strength training three or more days a week.
Physical health and fitness are key components to optimal fitness. While these numbers are encouraging, there is no doubt that a larger portion of the military should be at a healthy weight and fit enough to fight. Make fitness and weight management your priority for performance.
- Only 40% of all active-duty personnel surveyed get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is an important factor in recovery. Poor sleep habits can take a physical and mental toll on your health, your relationships, and your performance.
Tobacco and alcohol
One area where the military could improve is in the use of tobacco products and alcohol:
- Almost one-quarter of service members reported smoking a cigarette in the 30 days prior to taking the survey, which is higher than the civilian population and the Healthy People objective.
- Smokeless tobacco use is also prevalent in the military with 12.8% of all service members using smokeless tobacco in the month leading up to the survey.
- Rates of binge drinking were higher in the military than in the civilian population and more prevalent in the Marine Corps than in any other branch.
Tobacco in any form is detrimental to your health. If you’re thinking about quitting smoking or would like to talk to someone about your alcohol use, there are lots of resources and professionals that can help you achieve your goal.
Stress and mental health
After more than a decade of ongoing war, troops have—and will continue to experience—significant mental stress as a result of their service. In general, 5-20% of service members reported high rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and/or other mental health concerns.
- The most common military-related sources of stress were being away from family and friends and changes in workload but included financial problems and family members’ health problems.
- Women reported experiencing personal sources of stress more often than men did.
- Those who drank heavily were more likely to report problems with money and relationships.
Drinking, smoking, overeating, and even attempted suicide are all negative coping factors when dealing with stress. The survey found that the most effective methods of coping were planning to solve problems and talking with friends or family members. Find out how to use productive and effective methods for coping with stress and mental health.
Nutrition and dietary supplements
Being fueled to fight is an important component for anyone in the military. Proper nutrition requires consuming healthy—and avoiding bad and potentially harmful—foods and beverages.
- According to the survey, active-duty personnel eat too many unhealthy foods such as snacks, sweets, and sugary drinks and not enough of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
- More than one-third of personnel reported daily dietary supplement use.
What you decide to put in your body now may affect your performance and your career later. For more information on nutrition for combat effectiveness, read Chapter 15 of the Warfighter Nutrition Guide. And make sure you know what you’re putting into your body. Dietary supplements are not subject to pre-market approval by the FDA, and there are many ingredients that may do more harm than help. You can learn more about dietary supplements at Operation Supplement Safety. And for more information about the Health Related Behavior Survey, visit TRICARE’s webpage.
Deployments, injuries, transitions—just a few of the many things that can interfere with your normal exercise routine. Too long a break and your cardiovascular—or aerobic—fitness may suffer. For optimal performance, however, getting your heart and lungs back in action is critical. If you’ve been away from your routine for a while, start slowly and gradually increase intensity and duration. Be patient and stick with a routine, even on days you don’t feel like it. Mix up your routine when you’re able with different types of aerobic exercise such as biking, running, swimming, and rowing. For help planning your comeback, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies for Rebuilding Cardiovascular Fitness. If you’d like to learn more about aerobic conditioning specifically for the PRT/PFT, read part 1of our training series.
Neck pain in military pilots, particularly helicopter and fighter jet pilots, is a major concern. Conditions inherent in flying helicopters and jets put these pilots (and crew) at a greater risk for developing neck pain due to misaligned postures, the use of additional equipment on their helmets, and exposure to high G-forces. Effectiveness and readiness are compromised if a pilot is can’t fly because of pain. Pilots sometimes forego medical treatment for fear of being grounded or losing their flight status and, as a result, pain is left untreated.
Exercise programs specifically for strengthening the neck area can be helpful in preventing pain. “G-warmup” maneuvers can also be beneficial to prepare a fighter pilot for high G-forces. Military researchers are looking at improving and updating the ergonomics of aircraft seats and cockpits, as well as helmet fit. In the meantime, see your doctor if your neck pain doesn’t improve with rest and basic at-home treatments. And for more information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal.
Looking to define your glutes, hips, and thighs? Want a total body workout to help you improve your score on the next PFT? Not close to your unit? You can access workouts complete with warm-up, cool-down, and videos of each exercise all online. There is a variety of routines, so depending on what you are looking to get out of a workout, there may be one for you. This is a handy resource for all Warfighters, but reservists and National Guardsmen often can’t work out with their unit, so these videos could provide a new twist to an individual workout. If you are far from your unit and are not able to participate in unit physical training, try these workouts! Sport-specific workouts are also available for the cyclists or swimmers in the service.
Previously HPRC reported on how much physical activity healthy adults need. This week, the spotlight’s on children and teenagers—and whether they’re getting the exercise they need.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, including:
- Aerobic exercise for most of the 60 minutes. Most days can include either vigorous-intensity activities (such as running, swimming, and jumping rope) or moderate-intensity activities (such as walking or skateboarding), but at least three days a week it should include at least some vigorous-intensity exercise. Check out Let’s Move! for ideas on how to get active as a family.
- Muscle-strengthening activities such as playing tug of war, exercising with resistance bands, or climbing on playground equipment. Strengthening exercises should be done at least three times a week. For safety guidelines on strength training for children and teens, check out this article from HPRC.
- Bone-strengthening (impact) activities such running, jumping rope, basketball, tennis, and hopscotch. Impact activities strengthen bones and promote healthy growth and also should be done at least three times a week.
For more ideas on moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activities, check out the table in Chapter 3: Active Children and Adolescents of the Physical Activity Guidelines. For more ideas on getting fit as a family check out Let’s Move, a comprehensive initiative by the First Lady. For military-specific resources, check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.
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 ().
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.
- For muscle strengthening, try doing 8–12 repetitions for each type of exercise. Do at least one set, but try for two or three sets for more benefits, at least twice a week!
- Be sure to work out your major muscle groups, including legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.
- For some muscle strengthening ideas, check out ACSM’s handout on basic strength-training exercises to do with just your bodyweight or their video of some basic moves you can do at home. Or try ACE’s step-by-step workouts for a total body workout, a30-minute lunch workout, total body conditioning for parents, and many more. Also, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies on improving your Muscle Strength as well as your Core Strength!
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.”
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.