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Putting some fun into recovery

Learn how therapeutic recreation can be part of the healing process or fitness program for injured and/or ill service members.

Getting fit and staying healthy can be especially challenging for service members with chronic illnesses, injuries, or disabilities. The good news is that recreation therapy can make the process less painful. Recreation therapists can help motivate and design activities that are enjoyable while they improve both physical and mental function and fitness. Therapeutic recreation also can help make subsequent life more enjoyable.

The American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) suggests that those who are more active lead more satisfying, happier, and healthier lives. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and DoD recommend injured veterans get involved in adaptive sport programs and/or recreation therapy as part of their rehabilitation. Most rehabilitation hospitals have a recreation therapist on staff who can help develop individualized programs. There are also local and national programs such as the VA Adaptive Sports Program, Paralympics, and the Military Adaptive Sports Program.

PFT/PRT prep—Part 1: Aerobic conditioning

The PFT/PRT is designed to test your cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength. In this three-part series, HPRC takes a closer look at each component, offers tips on training optimization, and suggests how to prevent common training-related injuries.

Preparation for your Physical Fitness (PFT) and Physical Readiness Tests (PRT) takes time and discipline. Training for the test isn’t something you should start the month before the test, and the habits you develop leading up to the test should be ones you continue even after the test. Weekend warriors and procrastinators are at greater risk for injury, and it’s likely that your performance will be less than optimal when it comes time for the test.

If you’re just getting back into shape, be sure to do it gradually. Once you’ve resumed a regular exercise routine, you might notice some aches and pains. Listen to your body. Watch out for symptoms of common athletic injuries such as overuse injuries and knee pain. It’s important to address these issues early to minimize any damage and get you back in action as soon as possible. Maintaining your exercise routine after the PFT/PRT and challenging yourself along the way will keep you in warrior-athlete shape year round and prevent deconditioning.

HPRC provides a series of articles with guidelines to help you prepare for the PFT/PRT, beginning with this one on aerobic conditioning. Read more...

Performance Triad has grown!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Sleep, activity, and nutrition are crucial for Total Force Fitness. Learn more about them through the Army’s Performance Triad.

The Performance Triad is an Army program that focuses on 3 key areas to enhance the health and performance of Soldiers and their families: sleep, activity, and nutrition. HPRC has featured articles about the Performance Triad since it was launched in 2013, but the program has been growing steadily. That means it’s time for a visit to explore the wealth of materials now available, including information and graphic products about:

  • personal health assessment
  • back-to-school tips
  • nutrition and oral health
  • fitness activities for families
  • pets
  • sleep, travel, and time zones
  • goal setting
  • advice for leaders
  • Army-specific resources

Whether you’ve been there before, or you’re just finding out, take time now to visit HPRC’s introduction to the Performance Triad to get started. Look for links on the Performance Triad home page to their Facebook and Twitter feeds too. Learn how these 3 performance areas can contribute to your total fitness.

Exergaming: Is it really exercise?

There are lots of exercise video games on the market, but should they really be considered exercise?

Between the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and the continuing popularity of video games among children, does exergaming actually count as physical activity? Exergaming, or exercise video gaming, is popular among children and adults because it offers entertainment and physical activity. Exergames include:

  • Virtual cycling
  • Interactive climbing machines
  • Aerobics, dancing, and floor games for multiple video game platforms
  • Mobile exercise games for smartphones and tablets

While it’s certainly fun, studies suggest that exergaming is not the best form of exercise for kids. It does increase energy expenditure (compared to rest), but it’s not necessarily enough to meet your children’s exercise needs. For example, when compared to a phys ed class, exergaming fell short. For the most part, kids who play exergames don’t burn enough calories or increase their heart rates enough to make up for exercising.

The good news about exergaming is that it can increase motivation and keep children engaged. It could be a great starting point for inactive children needing to begin a physical activity routine. It can be part of the daily-recommended doses of exercise and physical activity for kids and teens too. Families could find it as a fun alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie or TV show. Exergaming might be better than sitting and playing video games, but it shouldn’t replace more vigorous activities such as outside play. Save the exergaming for the next rainy or snowy day!

Winter dehydration

Heading out into the cold? Remember to stay hydrated!

Winter isn’t over yet, so here’s a reminder: You can get dehydrated in cold weather. And it isn’t always easy to hydrate, especially when you’re on a mission. If you’re active outside for less than 2 hours, it isn’t likely to be a problem. But if you’re out in the cold for hours or even days for a field deployment, the combination of heavy clothing and high-intensity exercise can lead to sweating, which contributes to dehydration.

You might not even feel as thirsty in cold weather as in the heat, because your cold-weather body chemistry could affect your brain’s ability to tell you when you need liquid. Cold weather also tends to move body fluids from your extremities to your core, increasing your urine output and adding to dehydration.

So when you’re in a cold climate, don’t rely on thirst to tell you when you need to drink. Drink often and before you’re thirsty. One way to determine your hydration status is to check the color and volume of your urine. (Snow makes a good test spot.) Dark, scanty urine indicates dehydration. Ideally, urine should be light yellow.

Water and sports drinks are the best fluids to maintain hydration, even in cold weather conditions. Carbonated and caffeinated beverages (including energy drinks) have a dehydrating effect because they increase urine flow. Also avoid consuming alcohol in cold weather. It might make you feel warm initially, but it can reduce your body’s ability to retain heat.

Enjoy exercising in the cold weather, but be sure to keep your water bottle in tow.

Choosing the right personal trainer

It’s important to know what to look for when you’re considering hiring a personal trainer.

Personal trainers can help you safely start and maintain an exercise routine. They can keep you motivated and accountable when it comes to reaching your fitness goals. Finding the right trainer can be challenging but important. Think of it like a date: get to know your potential trainer to find out if you’re compatible. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Education/Certifications. These days, anyone can become a personal trainer with a few mouse clicks. Is this person certified through one of the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) such as National Federation of Personal Trainers (NFPT), American Council on Exercise (ACE), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), or National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)? These are widely accepted certifications. Better yet, does the trainer have a 4-year degree in kinesiology or exercise science? Is he/she certified in CPR and first aid?
  • Experience. We all have to start somewhere, but experience is helpful. How long has this person been a certified personal trainer? What types of clients does the trainer usually work with? Does he/she have expertise in sports conditioning, pre-natal fitness, or post-rehabilitation? If possible, ask clients (past and/or present) about their personal experiences.
  • Personality. You have to enjoy spending time with your trainer so that you’re fully committed to your training routine. Do you prefer a female or a male trainer? Someone close to your age? Choose somebody you like—someone who can motivate you.
  • Business practices/Liability. Before you begin, make sure you understand all payment policies and procedures. Are your schedules compatible? What’s the cancellation policy? Does the trainer carry professional liability insurance?
  • Fees. Personal trainers can be worth the money, but make sure you understand what you’re paying for. What are the costs? How long is each session? How often will you meet? Is it cheaper if you buy more sessions up front? Will you need to purchase a gym membership? 

Too sick to exercise?

Feeling under the weather? Find out when bed rest is best—or when it’s safe to sweat it out.

Is it safe to exercise when you’re sick? Those who have strict workout schedules aren’t likely to let the sniffles get in the way of their physical fitness. Exercise benefits include better weight control, improved mood, more energy, and healthier sleep. What’s more, just 30 minutes of regular exercise 5 times each week can improve your heart health and boost your immune system too.

 

Moderately exercising while you’re sick can be safe and, in certain cases, might actually improve symptoms such as congestion and low-energy. First, you need to determine “how sick is sick.” You can figure this out by using the “neck rule.” If you have symptoms above the neck—including sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, or watery eyes—then moderate workouts can continue. If your symptoms are below the neck—including cough, fever, fatigue, or body aches—then rest until the symptoms are gone. You can also use your temperature to determine whether exercising is okay. If you have a temperature of 101°F or higher, moderate or vigorous exercise isn’t safe due to risks of heat-related illnesses and dehydration.

 

Ultimately, the decision to exercise when you’re sick is up to you. If you’re too weak and fatigued to get out of bed, exercising might not be the best choice. If you have symptoms of a cold and your temperature is below 101°F, light to moderate exercise could be good for you. Make sure to see a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or get worse. 

Heart-healthy gifts show love

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
February is American Heart Month. Discover ways to make it healthy for your loved ones and yourself!

How you treat your heart today can add years to your life—that’s the best gift you can ever give your loved ones! The latest research continues to show that eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and minimally processed foods is good for your heart. Reflect on what you eat as this can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease. Make sure to include these heart-healthy foods in your nutrition plan too: luscious berries, leafy greens, a variety of nuts, and seafood (twice per week).

Want to show some love for your sweetheart this Valentine’s Day? Cards, flowers, and chocolate are ordinary—do something extraordinary!

  • Surprise your sweetie with a fabulous meal. If you’re able, dine in this Valentine’s Day. Make a delicious spinach salad and salmon with a nut topping. Serve berries, frozen yogurt, and Chocolaty Delights (see recipe below) for the perfect dessert. You’ll save money, eat like royalty, and provide the nutrients your bodies crave. Don’t forget the candles and your favorite playlist!
  • Whip up Chocolaty Delights. Use cooking spray to grease the bottom of an 8 in pan. Blend one can of black beans (drained) and ¾ c water in a blender for 30 seconds. Add one box of brownie mix. Stir mixture well and spread in pan. Sprinkle ¼ c dark chocolate chips and ¼ c chopped walnuts on top. Bake according to box directions or until a toothpick (inserted in the center) comes out clean. Let your partner know that each tasty treat includes added protein, fiber, and iron—go ahead and indulge!
  • Give a gift of lasting health. Consider a fitness app, pedometer, or walking shoes. Then invite your sweetheart to work out or take a long walk together.

Chill out and keep moving!

You don’t have to hibernate during the colder months. Exercising in the cold takes a little extra planning to stay safe and comfortable.

Don’t let cold weather freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to stay motivated, safe, and warm.

  • 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 can always remove layers as you get warmer.
  • Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather.
  • 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 or the temperature drops below 0°F.
  • 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 to cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.

You’ve got questions?

We’ve got answers. Learn more about staying physically fit in HPRC’s FAQ and Ask the Expert sections.

Looking for some answers to basic fitness questions? You’re not alone. We’ve created a FAQ section on topics we hear a lot about. Whether you want to know about flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, injury prevention, or workout routines—we have the answers. Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Submit your question using our Ask the Expert feature. We’ll provide an evidence-based answer to keep you informed and in shape.

Check back often to learn the latest and greatest information on exercising, optimizing performance, and staying resilient. 

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