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Diversity strengthens our military

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Learn how diversity in the military contributes to mission readiness and optimal performance.

The U.S. military comprises one of the most diverse collections of members, and DoD continues to make significant progress to advance inclusivity and diversity. For example, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (LGB) and transgender persons can openly serve, and women are now considered for combat positions. Women also can attend training schools previously exclusive to men. While some changes have been controversial, consider how diversity makes for a stronger force.

  • Diversity boosts problem-solving. Effective solutions and innovative thinking happen when those with varied outlooks and experiences work together. Diverse teams excel when they examine all sides of an issue, focus more on facts and evidence, and identify new solutions.
  • Diversity allows for authenticity. Organizations that support inclusion and discourage discrimination enable their members and employees to be genuine in personality, spirit, and character while bringing their strengths to their duties. This enhances well-being, improves job satisfaction, and decreases burnout and job-related stress.
  • Diversity fosters flexibility. According to a DoD report, the military connects diversity to its overall readiness and mission accomplishment. Diversity initiatives help leaders recruit and retain talent from a broader pool, enabling strategic agility. Practicing cross-cultural competence and communication within the Armed Forces helps service members use their skills to navigate cultural divides they encounter on global diplomatic and combat missions.

Differences can seem challenging, but diversity is essential for the military to maintain representation and connection to those it serves. Many Americans serve side by side in the service of this nation. What divides them also can potentially be their greatest asset. In the face of ideological intolerance, the military can show how diversity strengthens and helps maintain optimal organizational performance.

Learn more about the DoD policy on diversity and inclusion. And read HPRC’s Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy FAQ for more information on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Ladies: Set limits on drinking

The holidays are filled with celebrations, which sometimes means temptation to engage in heavy drinking. Learn how to cope with holiday stress and avoid drinking too much.

The holiday season is here, and it’s time for parties and gatherings with family and friends. Through these good times, try to steer clear of risky drinking and manage stress well, so you can enjoy the festivities. 

Those who consume 4 or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting—or within 2 hours—are binge drinkers. Binge drinking is dangerous, and alcohol can be especially harmful to women. It can impact your speech, memory, coordination, and balance, and sometimes result in alcohol poisoning. Women are more likely to develop liver and heart problems from drinking. And drinking during pregnancy can severely impact fetal development.

Alcohol use can affect your marriage too. It can have a negative impact on other family members as well. Alcohol also is commonly used as a sleep aid for Warfighters and their spouses, but it’s ineffective. While drinking might make you sleepy, it disrupts your ability to get the deep sleep your body needs.

Military wives might be more likely to binge drink than civilians too. They might drink because of stress related to deployment, or they’re exposed to alcohol more frequently at “post-deployment” parties. Some younger wives are more willing to experiment with drinking as well. Some might binge drink to let off stress, but other, healthier coping skills can help you go the distance. Military wives report that what really helps them keep stress at bay is staying busy, exercising, journaling, spending time with family and friends, and focusing on spiritual activities.

It’s fine to enjoy a drink or two at a holiday party, but it’s important to know your limits and drinking patterns. If you’re concerned you or someone you know has a problem with alcohol, understand the signs and symptoms and get help.

Reduce your breast cancer risk

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to look at how you can reduce your risk for this widespread condition (guys too) through exercise.

Exercise is an important lifestyle tool to help reduce your risk for breast and other cancers such as lung and colon cancer. While your genetics play a role in the development of some breast cancers, research has found that regular exercise can reduce your risk by an average of 25%. It may even improve your chance of recovery if you’ve already been diagnosed. Gentlemen take note: Men can get breast cancer too.

It’s never too late to start getting active. While exercise at any age can reduce your risk for breast cancer, the greatest benefit seems to be for adult women, especially those over the age of 50. It’s important to be physically active throughout the day, not just when you’re exercising. Even household, recreational, and occupational activities can have an impact on reducing risk for breast cancer.

Of course, early detection can be critical for dealing with breast cancer. Make sure you conduct regular breast self-exams. If you find anything that worries you, talk to your doctor right away.

If you have already been diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to your doctor about what kinds of activities are safe for you to do while undergoing treatment. Exercise and physical activity during cancer treatment also can be healthy for mind and body, can manage fatigue, and may lower the risk of progression. Just another reason to get out and get active! 

Are you at risk for Female Athlete Triad?

Learn how the Female Athlete Triad affects health and performance and how you can prevent it.

The Female Athlete Triad is a health condition that commonly affects physically active girls, teens, and women, especially those involved in activities that have a heavy emphasis on weight and physical appearance. It’s characterized by energy deficiency, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss), which can leave you tired, anxious, and unmotivated—an equation for poor performance. It can also put you at risk for serious health problems such as muscle loss, dehydration, and stress fractures.

Female service members can be at risk for developing the Triad if they don’t get enough calories (underfueling) and if training is too intense. But you can prevent it easily by focusing on your overall health and nutrition rather than your weight and by following these tips:

  • Eat when you’re hungry and include a variety of nutrient-rich foods such as lean sources of protein—lean fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products—along with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Skipping meals and snacks or severely restricting your food intake will keep you from getting enough calories and other important nutrients such as protein, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Eat a recovery snack that consists of carbs and protein after your workout. Carbs are your body’s primary fuel source to keep you energized, and you need protein to build and repair your muscles.
  • Talk to a registered dietitian (RD) for an individual nutrition plan. An RD who specializes in sports nutrition can help you choose the best foods and the right amounts to optimize your performance.

Remember, food is the fuel that helps you to perform at your best. For more, read this handout from the Female Athlete Triad Coalition.

Get motivated to exercise through friends

October is the MHS’s Women’s Health Month! Invite a girlfriend to exercise with you and help each other stay motivated.

Listen up, ladies! Women are more likely to engage in physical activity if they do it as part of a group and if they have friends who are active. Whether you’re looking for a group exercise class, a spotter for strength training, or a partner to join you on your run, social support from friends or family increases your chances of sticking to an exercise plan.

Women also enjoy activities more when they’re done with others instead of alone. Feeling better about a workout leads to more minutes of exercise per week too. Surround yourself with others who want to stay fit and have similar goals. You can decide whether you want to join an organized exercise group or keep it small and informal by asking one of your friends to participate in an exercise routine. Either way, get motivated!

For more about Women’s Health Month, visit the Military Health System website during October.

Moms-to-be: exercise for a healthier birth

There are many benefits of continuing to exercise while pregnant. Now you can add healthier birth weights and a reduced chance of C-section to the list!

Exercise leading up to and during pregnancy has many health benefits. Recently, the effects of exercising during pregnancy have been found to benefit the birth process as well. Regular exercise with pregnancy can contribute to a healthy birth weight for your baby without increasing the risk of premature birth. It may even decrease the risk of needing an unscheduled cesarean birth. For these reasons, continuing your exercise routine could help you have a healthier and safer birth. Staying active contributes to a healthier pregnancy. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight and establishes exercise habits that, if continued after your baby is born, help you get rid of the weight gained during pregnancy. There are many ways to keep up with your physical fitness during pregnancy while still keeping you and your baby safe.

Postpartum exercise

How soon can you start to exercise after giving birth?

The benefits of exercise in the postpartum period (six to eight weeks after delivery) include decreased physical, mental, and general fatigue, in addition to improved fitness and motivation. It may even reduce depression, as long as the exercise relieves stress rather than provokes it.

Some women who exercise during their pregnancy and immediately resume exercise after giving (vaginal) birth aren’t at risk for post-partum complications (such as excessive or prolonged bleeding, uterine inversion, or infection). However, most women don’t meet the recommendations for exercise during pregnancy, so when you do resume exercise, you should do so gradually.

You may be concerned that exercise could decrease your milk supply; however, exercising women who drink enough fluid (stay hydrated) and eat enough to meet their caloric needs continue to produce enough breast milk. Composition of breast milk remains the same with moderate exercise intensity, but vigorous exercise can cause lactic acid to appear in the milk, which could affect how well your baby accepts your milk. Consider nursing before participating in vigorous exercise.

Returning to physical activity after giving birth depends on the individual. Be sure to discuss your exercise habits and plans with your doctor before resuming your regular workout routine. Visit this web page from The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to learn more about exercise in the postpartum period. Stay healthy for you and your baby!

Woman up for Women’s Health Month

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition
October is Women’s Health Month. Women have some health issues that men don’t. Check out some special nutritional needs.

The month of October is Military Health System’s Women’s Health Month. There are more than 350,000 female members of the military (16% of the total military force). While it’s important for all military members to consume nutritious diets, women have special nutrient needs: iron, folic acid, and calcium.

Iron. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency among women. Poor dietary intake of iron combined with intense physical activity can lead to fatigue, weakness, and pale skin—all signs of iron-deficiency anemia (IDA). Iron-rich foods include meat, poultry, fish, spinach, beans, and fortified cereals. Consume these foods with vitamin C–rich foods such as strawberries and oranges for better iron absorption. HPRC discusses other reasons for IDA in this article on “Iron deficiency.”

Folic acid. Women of childbearing age need enough folic acid to reduce the risk of birth defects. But even if you’re not pregnant, folic acid helps make blood cells that boost your immune system. Folic acid can be found in leafy green vegetables, beans, peas, and fortified cereals and bread.

Calcium. Compared to men, women are at greater risk for osteoporosis, in which bones become weak and are more likely to break. Women need to start getting more calcium at an early age to keep bones strong. Calcium-rich foods include low-fat dairy products, tofu, kale, and fortified cereals and juices. Vitamin D is also important to help the absorption of calcium. Read more about vitamin D in HPRC’s Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.”

All of these nutrients can be found in supplement form, but as with any dietary supplement, consult your doctor first to determine if they are necessary and safe. For more information on supplements, read HPRC’s “Women's health and dietary supplements.” Remember, most people can achieve adequate intake of these nutrients with a balanced diet. Poor nutrition puts you at risk for injuries and makes it harder for you to perform at your best.

If you’d like to know more about women’s health, visit the Military Health System's web page.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day from HPRC!

HPRC salutes Mother’s Day with special recognition of the mothers of Warfighters, mothers who are Warfighters, and Warfighters’ spouses who are mothers. HPRC works to help keep you and your Warfighter healthy, happy, and fit so that every day is Mother’s Day!

Women in Combat Symposium

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
The Women in Combat Symposium is a forum for the key issues that women face as they continue to be integrated into combat roles.

The Defense Health Agency and Uniformed Services University are co-hosting a “Women in Combat Symposium” at the Defense Health Headquarters (DHHQ) in Falls Church, Virginia, April 29–May 1. Experts from various Department of Defense organizations and branches will present research and hold panel discussions on the physical, psychological, and social aspects of performance, leadership, health, and well-being.

The event is only open to federal employees, federal contractors, and active-duty military supporting this work. Participants also have the option to attend the event online in a virtual environment.

Max.gov is the online platform for the symposium. Whether attending in person or virtually, all participants must first register with max.gov and then join the WIC group to be able to register for the event. Select the “registration” tab on the “Women in Combat Symposium” page on max.gov.

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