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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

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
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.

Keeping steady with motion sickness

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
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).

Meditation has a lasting effect on emotions

HPRC Fitness Arena: 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.

Make the grass greener on your own side of the fence!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
"The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be."-Robert Fulghum, author & essayist

"The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be." – Robert Fulghum, author & essayist

Don’t waste time hoping for a better situation; make the best of wherever you find yourself and plan to be successful while you’re there using the resources you have. Whether you have performance goals of enhancing your physical fitness, becoming stronger mentally, bolstering your spirit, eating better, or enhancing your relationships, make sure that your “tools” are in good condition and ready to be used at any time. This can be particularly helpful if you (or your loved one) are on TDY or deployment because you can carry your performance-enhancement tools within you and employ them when needed.

For ways to sharpen your tools for Total Fitness (resilience and performance enhancement), check out the One Shot One Kill performance enhancement program to be prepared no matter where you are. Or if you have specific performance areas you want to strengthen, check out the other domains of HPRC’s website: Physical Fitness, Environment, Nutrition, Dietary Supplements, Family & Relationships, and Mind Tactics.

Sleep needs for adults

Optimum performance requires optimum sleep as part of post-exercise recovery. A recent report shows that athletes—including warrior athletes—need extra.

According to a recent report about post-exercise recovery and regeneration for athletes, men over 19 and women over 18 needs 8-10 hours of sleep a night (plus a 30-minute afternoon nap, as needed) for optimal athletic performance.

Continuing good sleep habits established earlier in adolescence such as regular meals, early morning light exposure, and a nightly sleep routine remain important. However, it’s also important to monitor the effects of stress and changes in sleep due to training/military operations.

Even if you’re not an athlete, the recommendations above still apply, except that your total sleep needs are seven to nine hours a night to keep you at your best.

Some additional tips for sleep:

  • Regular exercise during the day can help you sleep better at night.
  • If you have a question about whether to exercise more or sleep, choose sleep!
  • During the night, if you wake up and after 20 minutes haven’t gone back to sleep, get out of bed, do something relaxing, and then get back in bed. You’ll probably fall right asleep.

Also, for a better understanding of your current sleep habits, afterdeployment.org has an online “sleep assessment” that you can take. For more information on how to optimize your sleep, visit the HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section.

Accident prone? Get some sleep!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
When it comes to reducing your risk for accidents and enhancing your performance, sleep is one tool that has comprehensive benefits!

Did you know that missing a night of sleep can produce performance results similar to those of being legally drunk? Even losing just a few hours of sleep can result in accidents and poor physical and mental performance. Sleepiness can inhibit balance, coordination, concentration, and response time—creating “the perfect storm” for accidents.

Make sure your sleep is optimal by turning off your electronics and other distractions well before bedtime, exercising during the day, avoiding caffeine late in the day, and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. If you are in a situation where sleep is hard to come by, try to squeeze in naps when possible. For more information and ideas, check out HPRC’s article on sleep and visit HPRC’s Sleep Optimization resources.

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