Filed under: Healthy behaviors
Do you know that many kinds of chewing gum—including the gum in MREs—contains a sugar sweetener called “xylitol”? This natural sweetener can be good for your teeth and gums! Xylitol has been found to offer preventive dental benefits, including reduced bacteria and acids that cause cavities and significant decreases in plaque. Most studies have shown that the use of chewing gum or mints with xylitol three to five times a day, especially after eating, result in the greatest benefits. Other sugar-free sweeteners used in gum and mints offer some oral health benefits, but for maximal benefits use products with xylitol. For more information, read this health fact sheet xylitol and how it can protect your teeth. Although chewing gum or mints with xylitol helps reduce cavities, they do not replace the benefits of regular brushing and flossing.
Solid fats are solid at room temperature, come mainly from animal products, and are high in saturated or trans fats. Examples are butter, milk fat, cream, stick margarine, shortening, and beef, chicken, and pork fat. Some saturated fats increase blood cholesterol levels in the body. Oils are liquid at room temperature, and come from many different plants, and are good sources of heart healthy unsaturated fats. Examples are olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and peanut oil. Coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil are high in saturated fats and are considered solid fats. When using fats, replacing solid fats with unsaturated oils will provide essential nutrients to the diet and help lower blood cholesterol levels. Read about food preparation to promote health for more information.
Good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), helps prevent fat and cholesterol from clogging your arteries. A higher HDL number (> 60 mg/dl of blood) is better. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is considered bad cholesterol. It carries cholesterol to your arteries and can cause them to become blocked. A lower LDL number (< 100 mg/dl) is better. High-LDL or low-HDL cholesterol levels are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Visit this American Hearth Association web page for more information.
Warfighters must be in excellent physical condition to endure a variety of physical tasks for extended periods. Healthy eating will greatly affect your physical performance. For good health and performance, eat the energy-providing nutrients (known as macronutrients)—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These foods supply fuel and are involved in many functions in your body. For detailed information on each of the macronutrients, see the Warfighter Nutrition Guide.
Running is a great exercise to help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Running improves your cardiovascular system by strengthening your heart muscle and improving your circulation. As your heart muscle becomes stronger, your heart can pump more blood more easily. This helps deliver more oxygen to fuel your working muscles and remove byproducts such as carbon dioxide.
With the holiday season upon us, finding time for our usual workouts can sometimes be difficult. Two great physical fitness resources are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Each has online workouts that you can try for free.
For a total body workout that you can do at home with free weights, try this total body workout from ACE that includes videos of the warm-up, the workout, and the cool-down. For a total body workout without additional equipment, try this at-home workout.
If you have less time, try this Basic Bodyweight Strength Training Program from ACSM.
Fit in these workouts in at home through the holiday season to keep you on track.
Whether you are at home or on operations, healthy snacking can sustain your mind and body so your performance is maximized. Keep high-nutrient foods on hand at home, while at work, or during night operations. For specific suggestions and tips on healthy snacking, see the Warfighter Nutrition Guide.
Swimming is an excellent way to reduce the risk of disease. It works your entire body and activates all the major muscle groups; contributes to muscle strength, flexibility, posture, and endurance; promotes weight loss and stress reduction; and improves cardiovascular conditioning by lowering your resting heart and respiratory rates and making blood flow to the heart and lungs more efficient. Swimming is also very low risk for injury because it places stress on your bones, joints, and connective tissues, thanks to the buoyancy of the water. Swimming 15 to 30 minutes each day can have a very positive effect on your overall health.
Many who suffer from a lot of stress also have high blood pressure and do not exercise. People who practice some form of activity or exercise benefit from less stress associated with personal, family, and work situations. Reducing stress will improve your health. Exercise helps improve your stress tolerance and also can strengthen your cardiovascular system, increase endorphin levels, and keep you mentally focused. Bike rides, power walking, and yoga are some of the many inexpensive, time-efficient ways to improve your general fitness and reduce stress. The Mayo Clinic has more good advice on how and why to reduce stress.
Although regular exercise can improve sleep (see this HPRC article), your workout time may be putting you in a less-than-ideal state for a good night’s rest. Exercise not only makes you more alert but also raises your body temperature, both of which can make falling and staying asleep more difficult. To create healthy sleep habits, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends that you finish your workout at least three hours before you go to bed. View more healthy sleep tips on the NSF website.