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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).

“MATs”—The future of injury prevention in the military?

The Army hopes to minimize injuries and optimize performance by investing early in the health of its soldiers with Musculoskeletal Action Teams (MATs).

Injury prevention is the key to optimizing soldier-athlete performance, which is why Fort Benning deployed Musculoskeletal Action Teams (MATs) to their 194th Armored Brigade and their 198th Infantry Brigade as part of a two-year pilot study. The MATs consist of physical therapists, physical therapy technicians, athletic trainers, and strength-conditioning coaches. MATs have three main principles: injury prevention, precision PRT, and human performance optimization. The MATs offer basic trainees injury screenings, early treatment of minor injuries, and instruction on proper training technique. Trainees are also given guidance on correct footwear, management skills, and strategies to prevent common exercise mistakes that may lead to injury, as well as briefings on subjects like nutrition and preventative exercises.

The aim of this study is to educate soldier athletes. By learning to manage your own health and fitness, you’re more prepared to complete your mission safely. The goal: You and your fellow soldier athletes should have less need for medical treatment facilities because you’ll be equipped with your own preventative strategies, which you can use throughout your career. This study is also being conducted at Fort Ill, OK, Fort Lee, VA, and Fort Leonard, MO. The study will wrap up in April 2013, at which time the researchers will evaluate the results.

High-flying meals for U-2 pilots

“Tube food” provides meals for U-2 pilots on long missions.

Army researchers have developed a special method of meal delivery for U-2 pilots on long flight missions, which can sometimes last up to 12 hours. Pressurized suits and bulky equipment limit pilot movement and prevent them from opening their helmet visors—so feeding themselves until now has been impossible. Chefs and nutritionists in Natick, MA, teamed up to create meals that meet a pilot’s calorie and nutrition needs. The meals are turned into a consistency similar to baby food and delivered to the pilot by way of a metallic tube about the size of a tube of toothpaste. The containers fit into a port on the pilot’s helmet in a way that doesn’t interfere with the suit’s pressure. Watch this video to see these tube meals in action!

What are the favorites among pilots? Caffeinated chocolate pudding and chicken-à-la-king are the most popular. Other meals include beef stroganoff, key lime pie, applesauce, and sloppy joe.

Think PINK for optimal sleep

Pink could be your new favorite color, at least when it comes to sleep. This kind of noise may help you get the quality of sleep your body needs.

Total Force Fitness requires optimal performance, and optimal performance requires optimal sleep. One way to get your best sleep may lie in some of the subtle sounds you hear every day. You may have heard of “white” noise, a type of random, constant sound that can filter or mask surrounding noises. Studies have now found that another kind of sound—“pink” noise—can help your sleep be even more restful than actual silence. Unlike white noise, the volume of pink noise is essentially the same regardless of its frequency. (For serious audio buffs, here’s an explanation from Georgia State University’s “HyperPhysics” department.) When you think of pink noise, think of rain falling or the rhythm of a heartbeat. This kind of noise regulates and synchronizes with your brainwaves, which enhances the percentage of time you’re in a restful, stable sleep. Pink noise might be another strategy to add to your arsenal for getting better sleep. You can get recordings of pink noise from a variety of sources online—some even free—for your smartphone or other mp3 player or cd/dvd player. A little searching should turn up something you like. And read more about the importance of sleep and how it affects your performance.

New Moms: Get Warfighter fit again!

Physical fitness is critical for military readiness. However, after giving birth some women find it more difficult to obtain pre-pregnancy levels of fitness.

Military servicewomen are exempt from physical fitness tests for a minimum of six months after giving birth. For many, though, this may not be enough time to get back to pre-pregnancy fitness levels. To date, studies have found that after pregnancy many active-duty women had slower run times, were not able to do as many push-ups, and had lower overall fitness scores compared to their pre-pregnancy fitness tests. One Air Force study found that sit-ups were the only component of the fitness test that didn’t change after pregnancy, despite increases in abdominal circumference. While exercise is generally recommended for women during pregnancy, there are many reasons why a lot of women stop, decrease, or are unable to do physical training during this time—having a baby is exhausting! Lack of sleep and sleep disturbances, quality and quantity of family support systems, breastfeeding needs, hormonal changes, and the physical stress of childbirth all impact recovery and performance. Getting back into an exercise routine takes time and patience. Discuss any possible restrictions with your doctor before starting. Begin slowly and at lower intensities until you feel stronger. Brisk walking, especially with your baby, is good exercise and good bonding time.

For more information, Military OneSource details out specific guidelines and activities that new moms can do to get back in shape. Also visit HPRC's pregnancy resources section here.

Spring PFAs for sailors are in the air

Preparation for the PFA’s takes time and hard work. Don’t wait until the last minute to start training for your assessment—start optimizing your physical fitness today.

Attention, sailors! The first cycle of PFAs in 2013 is just around the corner. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin your training—postponing conditioning can lead to poor performance and even injury. Spring PFAs are typically conducted in May, so there’s still time to prepare for peak physical fitness. There are several resources you can refer to in case you’re not sure where to start. For more information on the Navy’s Physical Readiness Program—including guidelines, failure process, and assessment tables—refer to OPNAVINST 6110.1J. The Navy also provides sample workouts and the NOFFS app to help you with your training plan.

Read more on HPRC’s website about some basic training principles for aerobic/cardio conditioning, muscular strength, and mobility for your upcoming assessments.

Keeping steady with motion sickness

Motion sickness can affect anyone, and it can have a serious impact on military operations. Here are some ways to reduce your own risk.

Motion sickness can affect even the strongest Warfighters. Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sweating are some of the telltale signs of kinetosis, or motion sickness. The potential impact on individual and force readiness make it a concern in military medicine.

Motion sickness may affect individuals differently, but generally it follows a pattern. The earliest symptom typically is abdominal discomfort. If the motion continues, discomfort is usually followed by overly warm sensations, nausea, and wanting cool air.

Motion sickness can be alleviated to a degree by following these simple tips:

  • Pick a seat where motion is less likely to be felt, such as an aisle seat on a plane, a central cabin on a ship, or a car toward the front of a train.
  • Avoid sudden movements of the head, which can aggravate motion sickness.
  • Avoid tasks that involve prolonged close-up eye movement or focus (such as reading a book). Focus instead on the road in front of you or on a distant object so that your senses can confirm that you’re on the move.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during a trip, as alcohol can worsen motion sickness.
  • If possible, expose yourself to the motion in gradually and in stages until you adapt to the movement.

 

Jerome Greer Chandler, a former combat medic, describes the severity of motion sickness among U.S. service members in an article to The American Legion Magazine [PDF]. For a detailed reading on motion sickness and its effect among military personnel, see the Textbooks of Military Medicine (volume 2).

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!

Meditation has a lasting effect on emotions

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Need another reason to meditate? Integrating meditation into your daily routine may benefit how you process your emotions in the long term.

Researchers have long been interested in meditation and its potential benefits. A recent study found that regular meditation practice of 20 minutes a day has a lasting effect on how your brain processes emotions. This suggests that meditation could potentially help your brain handle stress, anxiety, and depression, and possibly other feelings. For those individuals dealing with relocation, deployment after-effects, chronic stress overload, recent family changes, or new training assignments, having a strategy to improve your resilience and help process the expected extra doses of emotions can be helpful.

For more information on meditation, visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s meditation page. HPRC will be adding a new section on Mind-Body Strategies in the near future that will give you more resources, too—so check back for that.

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