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Get moving to help manage PTSD

Research has found that those with PTSD are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease; for some, exercise might be a great addition to other types of treatment.

The physical and emotional stress associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can raise your blood pressure and cholesterol and increase body mass index, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Veterans suffering from PTSD are more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack than those without PTSD. While the exact relationship between PTSD and heart disease is not fully understood, we know that regular exercise can help prevent heart disease and other risk factors, which could be helpful for those with PTSD. Some types of exercise can be effective in reducing psychological symptoms associated with PTSD and also can play a role in reducing unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, being overweight, and physical inactivity—sometimes byproducts of trying to cope. If you think that exercise might help you or a loved one cope with PTSD, speak with your healthcare provider to assess how much and what kind of exercise is best!

Lack of exercise is just as bad as smoking

It’s no news that smoking is bad for your health, even deadly. But a new study found that lack of exercise can be just as fatal.

A new study published in the Lancet reports that one in 10 premature deaths worldwide is related to lack of exercise, equal to 5.3 million deaths in 2008. It seems as though inactivity has become as deadly as tobacco. More specifically, researchers estimated that lack of exercise causes about 6% of heart disease, 7% of Type 2 diabetes, and 10% of colon and breast cancers worldwide. To put this in perspective, the failure to spend 15-30 minutes a day doing activities such as brisk walking could shorten your life span by three to five years. Lack of physical activity is certainly a global epidemic, but it is also highly preventable. Check out HPRC's resources on how to get you and your family physically active.

Getting fit? There’s an app for that.

With more than 91.4 million smartphones in the U.S., applications might be the answer to get people off the couch and moving. Finding the right one, however, can be a challenge.

There are any number of excuses for not exercising or counting calories, but not having the ability to track your progress and have it with you at all times is a dwindling one. Smartphone physical activity applications (SPAA) are growing in popularity and making it easy for users to receive information regarding their fitness and nutrition. Finding the right one for you—among thousands—may take some legwork, but the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) review of the different types of fitness apps can help you choose.

A recent study identified features that consumers find most valuable— apps that include goal setting and problem solving (for example, alternative exercises for when it’s raining) seem to be the most successful. Two other features that users ranked high were automatic tracking of physical activities and receiving feedback on fitness accomplishments.

A helpful application created by the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling Series (NOFFS) is available here. Also check out HPRC’s tip on a good nutrition tracking application. Find an application that meets your needs and bring fitness with you everywhere!

The run-down on the cool-down

The post-exercise cool-down—is it really necessary? Does it prevent muscle soreness? Is it good for you?

The cool-down—a practice so engrained in our exercise habits that we assume it’s important. But, the truth is, the topic is understudied, and evidence for or against cooling down is still up for debate. What is a cool-down and what is it supposed to do? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a period of low- to moderate-intensity aerobic or muscular endurance activities after exercise to gradually reduce heart rate and blood pressure and remove metabolic byproducts from the system. For some, this may be a slow jog down the street, or an easy ride around the block after a workout with the hope of also preventing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The long-standing theory behind cooling down was that it helped to remove lactic acid from the system, a substance that could later cause muscle aches and soreness. However, it is believed that DOMS is the result of minor muscle damage due to novel or intense exercise, but we do know that lactic acid is not the culprit. During cool-down—active recovery—more lactic acid is removed from the system than during passive recovery, i.e., no cool-down. But is this a good thing? In a study of cyclists, researchers found that when subjects stopped exercise abruptly, lactic acid turned into glycogen, a fuel for the muscles. But when the cyclists gradually tapered off activity, less glycogen was made, leaving less energy for the muscles. These results indicate that cooling down might not be beneficial and may waste useful energy for the muscles.

On the other hand, a cool-down lowers elevated heart rates faster than passive recovery does and may prevent post-exercise dizziness. Stopping abruptly after exercise can cause blood to pool in the dilated vessels of the legs and feet, which may lead to a feeling of light-headedness and/or dizziness. Keep in mind, however, that these symptoms can also be related to other post-exercise conditions such as low blood sugar, low blood pressure, dehydration, or even hyponatremia. If you experience these symptoms, check with your doctor to find out if there are other causes.

Scientists agree that cooling down is also beneficial for people with cardiovascular conditions and heart disease where the coronary vessels are narrowed due to atherosclerosis (fatty deposits), as blood return to the heart may be compromised without it.

ACSM currently recommends at least 5-10 minutes of cool-down, with at least 10 minutes of stretching after exercise. However, more research is needed to determine the value and ideal recommendations for cooling down. If stopping exercise abruptly causes symptoms of light-headedness and dizziness, then a cool-down is a good idea.

NOFFS: There’s an app for that!

A new app for the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling Series is now available on the iTunes Store.

The Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling Series (NOFFS) is an important training program for sailors and Navy health professionals, combining sports science and injury prevention information to promote optimal human performance. The exercises in the series have been designed to train sailors for the types of activities they can expect to perform during operational duties. The NOFFS program is currently available as an app for iPhone, with on-the-go reference and training assistance right at your fingertips. The app features pictures, videos, and step-by-step exercise instruction, as well as nutrition tips and information. Download the app for free from the iTunes App Store!

Exercise and sleep

Regular exercise improves sleep quality but doesn’t make up for shortage of sleep.

It’s been commonly thought that exercise can ward off the effects of sleep loss, but it turns out that exercise only mitigates sleepiness and fatigue for an hour and doesn’t seem to have any effect on boosting performance throughout the day. Although regular exercise—both strength training and high-intensity endurance—does help you sleep better, it can’t replace lack of sleep—only actual sleep will do that. The loss of sleep affects physical performance primarily by reducing your motivation to exercise—so, when thinking about your workout plan for the week, include a plan to get enough sleep.

For information on how to improve the quality and length of your sleep, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics Sleep Optimization section. For information on how sleep loss impacts other areas of fitness, check out the HPRC’s Total Force Fitness article The impact of sleep loss on total fitness, and for information on physical fitness check out HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.

Buddy up to help maximize performance

Get the most out of your workouts and maximize your performance by using the buddy system.

Working out by yourself is fine if you’re self-motivated, but getting a buddy to tag along can provide the motivation needed to really ramp up your workout. Let’s face it—a bit of friendly competition can help you push harder than if you were alone. In fact, research has consistently shown that performance is substantially improved when you exercise with someone (even a virtual partner)—unless the workout is complex or involves tasks that require coordination, when the performance can degrade (i.e., "choking under pressure"). So, for best results, practice your difficult routines with a trainer, and then engage in healthy competition to optimize your performance. Keep in mind that not just any friend will do. It’s best to get a buddy whose skill level is similar to your own.

Toning shoes: Buyer beware!

In the past, concerns about the effectiveness of toning shoes have been questioned at HPRC. Here is an important update on the issue.

If you have ever bought a pair of toning shoes, you probably noticed you haven’t developed a Kardashian-curved derrière or a Brook Burke body just from walking around in them. You’re not alone. Recent developments have brought toning shoes back into the spotlight for the media and scientific communities. An independent study by the American Council on Exercise found that these kinds of toning shoes do not increase muscle activation or caloric expenditure compared to regular athletic shoes. However, a positive outcome may be that these shoes have motivated people to get out and walk, a physical activity that has many health benefits—without special shoes! Caveat emptor!

Food for thought: What does your brain tell you about eating after exercise?

Your brain might be the driving force behind what you eat (or don’t) after a workout.

A recent article in the New York Times looks at the combination of neuroscience and exercise. A new theory suggests that your brain, not your hormones, increases or decreases your appetite after a workout. Researchers at California Polytechnic State University studied different areas of the brain that control whether we want and like food and how these areas are affected by exercise or sitting still.

Scientists found that “responsiveness to food cues was significantly reduced after exercise.” Compared to sitting for an hour, exercisers were much less interested in food, even ice cream sundaes. The subjects in the study were in their 20s and fit enough to sustain strenuous exercise for an hour. This is in contrast to a study that found the same areas in the brain were excited in an overweight and sedentary population after exercise, causing them to want and eat more food.

While the effect is still unclear and more variables need to be tested, researchers conclude that exercise has a definite impact on how your brain responds to food.

Preparation for the PFT/PRT part 1: aerobic conditioning

The PFT/PRT is designed to test your cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. In this three-part series, we’ll take a closer look at each component, offer tips on optimizing your training, and show you how to prevent common injuries associated with different types of training.


In a recent study investigating risk factors for discharge from Army Basic Combat Training (BCT), researchers concluded that increased risk for both men and women was associated with failure on the initial two-mile run test. The current Physical Fitness Tests (PFT) or Physical Readiness Test (PRT) use a one and a half to two-mile run test to assess cardiovascular, or aerobic, fitness.

When mapping out a fitness program, learn the components of the FITT principle and apply them for each type of training. FITT stands for “frequency,” or how often; “intensity,” or how hard; “type,” or the kind of activity; and “time,” or how long. Progression (see below) is also an important part of an exercise plan. Using the FITT Principle, here are some guidelines to help optimize your cardiovascular fitness.

Frequency. The U.S. Surgeon General and other U.S. government agencies recommend physical activity on three or more days a week.

Intensity. According to updated guidelines The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise (i.e., at 40-60% Heart Rate Reserve (HRR)) five days a week or vigorous-intensity exercise training (i.e., at ≥ 60% HRR) three or more days a week. They also recommend a combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise. You can use this calculator from Kirtland AFB to determine your HRR.

Type. ACSM defines aerobic activities as being continuous, rhythmic, and using large muscle groups, such as your lower and upper body muscles. Examples of these kinds of activities are running, biking, swimming, rowing, and jump roping.

Time. The Surgeon General, ACSM, and American Heart Association recommend expending at least 1,000 calories per week through exercise (i.e., in addition to calories burned through normal everyday activities). This can be achieved through moderate-intensity exercise, as described above, and should last about ≥ 30 minutes per day for a total of  ≥ 150 minutes per week; or with vigorous-intensity exercise for ≥20 minutes per day for a total of ≥75 minutes per week. The maximum safe duration is unknown, but exercise lasting more than an hour and a half increases risk of overtraining and/or overuse injuries such as stress fractures.

Progression. During the initial phase of an exercise program, ACSM recommends increasing duration (minutes per session) gradually. Increasing 5-10 minutes every one or two weeks over the first four to six weeks of an exercise program is reasonable for healthy adults. After an exercise routine has been maintained for one month or longer, it is reasonable to gradually increase frequency, intensity, and/or time over the next four to eight months. As a general rule of thumb, though not scientifically backed, increasing your workloads or volume by 10% will also help you gradually progress your exercise program.

Due to the repetitive and rhythmic nature of aerobic exercise, overuse injuries can occur as a result of your training. Cross training—training with a variety of aerobic exercises—is recommended. Examples of this would be alternating running, swimming, and rowing exercise sessions.

Part two of this series (upcoming) will address the muscular strength component of PFT/PRT.

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