Filed under: Performance
Not only is alcohol abuse harmful to your social life and relationships, but it also takes a toll on your physical and mental performance. Alcohol abuse is a serious performance degrader that results in irritability, difficulty communicating with friends and family, delayed reaction timing, reduced metabolic rate, and decline in cognitive processing.
If you’re not sure if your drinking levels constitutes abuse or not, check out Military Pathways’ free and anonymous Drinking IQ screening. This online self-assessment can help you determine the seriousness of your drinking habits and how it can impact your total performance. A few tips from the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism will also show you how to cut back on your alcohol consumption.
Optimized performance and mission readiness are compromised by smoking. The list of adverse effects includes increased fatigue, diminished respiratory capacity, poorer night vision, slower wound healing, and even slower reaction times. It’s hard enough trying to optimize performance without adding the other health issues that smoking brings. Try using the resources offered by Quit Tobacco—Make Everyone Proud to get you on a smoke-free path to optimum performance—or to help someone else. Remember, if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the others who are counting on you to perform at your best.
Kettlebells have been used in Europe for years in strength training, and now they’ve become a popular workout tool here in the United States too. The benefit of kettlebells is that they provide the user a wider range of motion than dumbbells do. Kettlebell workouts engage multiple muscle groups at once, making them a great option for getting a whole-body workout in a short time.
Interestingly, the January 26 edition of the New York Times Health Section reported on a Danish study that suggests kettlebell exercises are a promising musculoskeletal therapy for low-grade back and neck pain.
The study involved middle-aged women with low-grade back, shoulder, and neck pain who were randomly assigned to either a regular kettlebell workout or a general-exercise control group. The study did not include those with chronic pain.
According to the Times article, at the end of the study, the group that did the kettlebell exercises reported less pain, as well as improved strength in the trunk and core muscles, compared with the control group. Overall, the study showed exercising with kettlebells reduced lower-back pain by 57% and neck and shoulder pain by 46%.
For those with core-muscle instability or weak core muscles, kettlebells can be a great way to strengthen those muscles (back, abdominal, glutes, quads, hamstrings) and improve posture. However, along with exercise it is imperative to stretch the hamstrings, since this tends to be a major contributor to lower back pain or discomfort.
It’s important to start slow when using kettlebells and seek professional guidance. Like any other exercise equipment, if used improperly, kettlebells can cause serious injury, and their swinging motion can be difficult to control.
Getting in the best shape of your life requires you to push your training regime to the limit. However, without appropriate rest periods and diet, this can lead to serious conditions known as “non-functional overreaching” (NFO) and “overtraining syndrome” (OTS). What occurs is that your performance begins to decline, even though you are training as hard as ever, and you start to feel tired and “stale.” Read HPRC’s Overview “Overtraining—what happens when you do too much” to learn about the serious implications of these conditions for Warfighters.
What do you put in your body to boost your performance, increase your energy, shed pounds, build muscle, or otherwise supplement your diet? What’s in that drink, pill, or powder? What will it do for you? What will it do to you? Is it worth the risk?
More and more Warfighters are taking dietary supplements, most without being fully informed that some of the ingredients could have harmful side effects. HPRC has just unveiled its Dietary Supplement Classification System to provide this kind of information and help you make informed decisions about a particular supplement. To start exploring this new resource, visit HPRC’s new web pages. If you have a question, contact us via “Ask the Expert.”
There’s a phenomenon runners sometimes experience that’s commonly called “runners’ trots” – otherwise known as diarrhea – that has risk factors and that can possibly be avoided. Although the “trots” usually don’t last long and are generally nothing to worry about, they certainly can be a major annoyance, causing lost time in training or competition and even embarrassment if there is literally “nowhere to go.”
The most common risk factors cited are for those who are young, female, susceptible to irritable bowel syndrome, or lactose intolerant, as well as those who have had a previous abdominal surgery. The things we do to our bodies that reportedly increase risk are high-intensity exercise, dehydration, vertical-impact sports (e.g., running vs. biking), poor conditioning, medication, and diet. Although these are stated in the medical literature as risk factors, a recent study published in the International Sportmed Journal examined the evidence behind each of these risks to see if they hold up under scrutiny – and there’s surprisingly little evidence to support many of the statements about risk factors for developing “runners’ trots.” Most of the evidence was limited and relied on either single studies or multiple studies with varying results but a tendency toward supporting the conclusion.
Here are the conclusions of this evidence-based study:
The only strongly supported evidence was for dehydration to increase the risk of diarrhea. Female gender, younger age, high-intensity training, vertical impact, and medication had limited support and could go either way. Finally irritable bowel, lactose intolerance, previous abdominal surgery, poor conditioning, and dietary factors had very weak support. Keep in mind that little or no evidence does not make something true or false; it just means we have insufficient scientific evidence for any assumption.
So, based on the studies, how can you avoid “runners’ trots?”
- The evidence certainly supports staying well hydrated so that the bowel gets an adequate blood supply.
Even though the evidence for doing some things is not strong, they make sense and are not harmful. These include:
- Avoid a large meal 3-6 hours prior to running.
- Avoid food or drinks that have non-absorbable sweeteners (such as sorbital or sucralose), caffeine, and/or a high fat content.
- Don’t ingest concentrated carbohydrates (high glycemic index) before running.
- Be aware that energy bars and gels may contribute to the “trots” for some people.
- Avoid taking anti-diarrheal medications such as loperamide (e.g., Imodium) or Lomotil, since they can affect the ability of the body to tolerate heat.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing to reduce irritation.
- If symptoms persist for more than a few days, seek medical attention to be sure there is not an underlying cause.
Enjoy your run!
Besides keeping you healthy and fit, exercise has another important benefit. According to a news release from Oregon State University, a study conducted on more than 2,600 men and women between ages 18 to 85 found that individuals who exercise for 150 minutes a week at a moderate to vigorous level experience a 65% improvement in sleep quality. In addition, active people experienced less daytime sleepiness than those who are inactive. These findings appeared to be across the board—subjects experienced better sleep regardless of age, weight, and other health habits. For many, regular physical activity can be an effective, non-pharmaceutical alternative to improving sleep and concentration levels during waking hours.
The study, which was published in the December 2011 issue of Mental Health and Physical Activity, adds more evidence to the amazing body of research that demonstrates the importance of exercise for overall health.
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.