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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Tai Chi for post-traumatic stress

Filed under: Exercise, PTSD, Tai Chi
Learn how this Asian form of exercise can be used to reduce the symptoms of PTS.

Tai Chi is a form of exercise and mind-body practice that can provide many physical, psychological, and social benefits. It can also be used to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS, formerly referred to as PTS). Tai Chi involves slow, gentle movements and controlled breathing. It can improve sleep, pain management, strength, and flexibility for many individuals. Practicing Tai Chi can also reduce depression, stress, and anger, which are often symptoms of PTS. The mental focus, relaxation and breathing techniques, and physical health benefits associated with Tai Chi might explain this reduction in depression and improvement in overall mood.

This Chinese form of exercise promotes relaxation and enhances alertness and attentiveness. Hyperarousal (that is, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, tense muscles, and sweating) is a common symptom of PTS, and Tai Chi can help individuals regulate their arousal levels. Tai Chi and other mind-body practices such as yoga and mindfulness can help individuals cope with chronic pain and health ailments that commonly accompany symptoms of PTS.

You don’t have to be diagnosed with PTS to experience the benefits of Tai Chi, though. It is a low-impact workout for anyone who would like to sweat a little and relax the mind. Also, it is offered at many MWR facilities on military bases around the world. If you would like to try it first in the comfort of your own home, there are videos online you can watch to get an idea of the practice and what it involves. Look at your gym schedule to see if Tai Chi is available to try out too!

Winter-workout tips

Make sure you’re prepared for exercising in the cold weather. Learn more.

It can be extra challenging to get outdoors and exercise in the winter. But don’t let cold temperatures freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to help you “weather” the winter weather!

  • Dress in layers. Choose synthetic materials such as polyester or polypropylene that stay close to the skin. Avoid cotton since it soaks up sweat! You always can remove layers as you get warmer.
  • Warm up. Take a few minutes and do a dynamic warm up before you head outdoors. This will help warm up your muscles and body, so it might feel like less of a shock when you step outside.
  • Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather. Chemical heat warmers also can help keep your hands and feet warm.
  • Check the forecast. Wind chill, snow, and rain can make your body more vulnerable to the outside temperatures. Plan an indoor workout when the wind chill is extreme (negative numbers) or the temperature drops below 0°F. You’re at risk of hypothermia and frostbite if you’re not properly prepared.
  • Be visible. With fewer hours of sunlight in the winter months, you might be walking or running when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Wear reflective gear or a headlamp to stay visible to oncoming traffic.
  • Apply sunblock. You can still get sunburned in the winter, so don’t forget the sunscreen!
  • Stay hydrated. When exercising in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to indicate hydration since you usually don’t feel as thirsty in cold temperatures. You need to stay just as hydrated in cold weather as you do when it’s hot outside.
  • Ask your doctor. Certain symptoms might worsen in cold weather if you have asthma, heart issues, or Raynaud’s disease (when specific body parts feel numb due to cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.

Track your weight loss

Have you ever wondered if it’s helpful to record what you eat? Learn how self-monitoring techniques can help you reach your weight-loss goals.

The first step to losing weight and gaining better health is using self-monitoring techniques to track your calories. Armed with this information, you can reinforce what’s working well. Some evidence suggests that recording food and beverage intake leads to healthy, sustainable weight loss. Weighing yourself daily might help too.

What’s the secret to weight-loss success? Choose a self-monitoring technique that works for you:  Try to do these actions frequently—at least 3 times per week—and turn them into healthy habits. Read more...

New year, new fitness goals

Do you have trouble keeping your long-term fitness goals? Interim goals will continue to fuel your motivation and make your end goal feel closer.

Do you make a New Year’s resolution every year to “get in shape” and then approach year’s end dissatisfied? The problem might be that fitness is a long-term goal that’s hard to keep in focus. Goals that seem more in reach often feel more desirable (for example, money, food, or a finish line) than ones that seem further away. For example, when you’re at the end of a race and can see the finish line in front of you, you’ll probably see the finish line as closer than it really is. However, runners who are less fit and less motivated estimate the distance to a finish line as farther than do runners who are fit and highly motivated. Whether or not the goal is actually closer, believing that it is triggers excitement and fuels effort towards achieving the goal.

That’s all well and good if you’re already out running that race, but sometimes getting off the couch is the hardest thing to do when you’re out of shape. And even if you want to get in shape, your poor fitness can affect whether you believe you can achieve your fitness goals.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape. Keep your eye on the prize! The “prize” could be anything. It could literally be the finish line; the next milestone on your route, such as the building at the end of the block; or even be a post-race reward, such as a healthy post-workout smoothie.

Remember, some goals are harder to achieve than others, but you can stay the course by imagining what's coming, keeping the self-talk positive, and setting SMART goals along the way. This will help keep your motivation high and the prize within reach. Exercisers who focus on an end goal and ignore the distractions around them perceive their goal as being closer, perform better, and—perhaps most important—don’t consider the exercise as difficult. So, if you see your goals as being closer to you in your mind, you’ll have something motivating to look forward to.

Busting the “fat-burning zone” myth

What’s a “fat-burning zone”? Is it based on actual science?

You’ve probably seen those colorful charts on exercise machines at the gym, showing your ideal heart rate zone for optimal fat burn. Is this “zone” the best way to burn fat?

The concept of the “fat-burning zone” might not be entirely true. Many people assume that in order to burn fat, they must keep their heart rate within the defined range. This can be misleading for a few reasons. First, people’s heart rates are very different, making it difficult to generalize recommendations from a fixed chart. Second, your body burns two main sources of energy during exercise: fats and carbohydrates. (Protein is an energy source, but it’s only used in very small amounts.) For any given heart rate, your body will burn both carbohydrates and fats; however, the proportion of each will vary. Low-intensity exercises (lower heart rate) with a longer duration (30 minutes or more) mostly rely on fat for energy. So, there’s a zone in which a higher proportion of fat is being used for energy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more fat is being burned. Your body actually gets most of its energy from fat during rest. In theory, your ultimate “fat-burning zone” is in your living room: you lying on your couch, binge-watching your favorite new series.

So, how do you burn more fat? High-intensity exercises actually burn the most fat due to the higher overall energy (caloric) expenditure. Interval training is a great way to boost the intensity of your workout, and you get that “afterburn” effect. Fitness level also is a factor. Fitter people’s bodies tend to utilize more fats than carbohydrates.

If you’re training for endurance activities, the “fat-burning zone” on the exercise machines might be the “right zone” for you. To burn even more fat, you ultimately need to burn more overall calories. High-intensity workouts are a challenging and efficient way to help reach your goal.

Tips to treat tendonitis

Sometimes it’s hard to know if your ongoing, chronic pain is coming from your joints, muscles, ligaments, or tendons. It could be tendonitis. Learn more.

If you’ve ever trained for Physical Fitness (PFT) and Physical Readiness (PRT) tests, a long-distance race, or other exercise routines, you’ve likely experienced pain. It might be a common, chronic overuse injury known as tendonitis. The good news is there are things you can to do to help reduce your risk of tendonitis.

Tendons connect your muscles to your bones and help you move by “pulling” on the bones when your muscles contract. Damage or inflammation can occur from repetitive activities, motions, or sudden movements that put too much stress on your tendons. Knees, elbows, and wrists are all common areas of pain associated with tendonitis because they’re often used in repetitive movements.

Pay attention to your body. Warning signs can include pain, swelling, and loss of range of motion. Here are some tips to help prevent tendonitis.

  • Maintain a healthy diet and weight, and check out HPRC’s Nutrition section for helpful nutrition tips.
  • Pay attention to your posture and make sure that you use proper form, especially when lifting and moving heavy objects.
  • Maintain a well-rounded exercise routine, which includes muscular fitness, flexibility, mobility, and cardiovascular endurance.
  • Make sure to incorporate rest and cross-training days to let your body recover.

Already have tendonitis? Here are some tips to help you get back into your workout routine:

  • Alternate exercise to rest the affected area. Instead of running, try biking or swimming to rest possible patellar (knee) tendonitis. Visit HPRC’s RX3 Knee Pain section on knee exercises and other rehab resources.
  • Ice the affected area to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications, which also can provide some relief.

See your doctor right away if you experience fever, redness or warmth in the affected area, or pain in multiple locations.

Thanksgiving turkey trot

Don’t forget about your exercise routine this Thanksgiving.

Before you gobble up your Thanksgiving dinner, consider starting your day off with a calorie burn! Pretty much wherever you are, you can find a road race—Turkey Trot, Drumstick Dash, or Gobble Gait—and most are family friendly.

If you’re prone to “holiday stress,” particularly if you’re hosting, it can be a great way to relieve some tension and mentally prepare for the day ahead. If you’re not up for the race crowds, or there isn’t a race nearby, there are lots of other options for getting in some exercise. Find a quiet road for a quick run, go for a bike ride, or enjoy some fall foliage on a hike. Whatever floats your gravy boat.

Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you to all service members and their families too.


Compression garments: Do they work?

Compression socks, sleeves, and other garments are popular among athletes, but do they actually increase performance and decrease recovery times?

Compression garments come in a variety of sleeves, socks, shorts, and full-body suits. The amount of pressure, or compression, they provide depends on the type and size of the garment. Compression garments help push blood toward your heart and prevent it from “pooling” or collecting in the compressed areas. Compression sleeves also are used in clinical settings for those with lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.

But can they increase your performance and decrease your recovery times? Compression garments have been shown to help blood flow to working muscles during exercise, but that necessarily doesn’t translate to better performance. Most studies look at compression socks during running, and most evidence suggests no difference in athletes’ performance levels during runs when compared to those not wearing compression socks. In addition, there’s no decrease in recovery time or blood-lactate levels.

Still, those wearing compression socks report “feeling better” and “less tiredness” in their legs during their runs. They also feel less sore following the exercise bout. And while there might not be an actual benefit of wearing compression gear, if you feel better wearing it—either during or after exercise—then keep doing what works!

Football season fitness

Football season is well underway. Make sure your healthy habits don’t take a hit on the weekends.

Brisk fall weather means it’s the perfect time to hit the couch for a weekend of watching football. But don’t let all the hard work and smart decisions you’ve made during the week go to waste. Avoid weekend binging and (too much) lazing by staying active during commercial breaks and making healthy choices when it comes to snacks.

The average football game consists of about 11 minutes of actual play—so you’re watching huddles, replays, and commercials in-between. Use that downtime to your advantage, call an audible, and get moving during time-outs!

  • Complete a quick DIY workout during commercial breaks.
  • Go for a jog around your neighborhood during halftime.
  • Remember to make healthy food choices too.

Check out A Football Fan’s Guide to Food and Fitness for ways to stay healthy and active during football season.

Training by suspense

Learn how to get a total-body workout with suspension training, using just your body weight as the resistance to perform exercises that build strength, flexibility, and balance.

Suspension training is popular among both civilians and service members, for good reason. If you’re on deployment or otherwise traveling, it isn’t practical to lug around heavy exercise equipment. But pack a couple of suspension-training straps, and you’ve got part of a well-rounded training routine covered. Once the straps are securely anchored to something sturdy enough to hold your weight, just place your hands or feet into the loops, and your body weight enhances the effectiveness of exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, core strengthening, and more.

While there are various ways to adjust and adapt the exercises for less experienced exercisers, this type of workout does call for some initial joint and core stability. There’s also potential risk of injury, especially for beginners. Before you try this for the first time, it’s a good idea to get some advice and guidance from a suspension-training professional. More gyms are now offering suspension-training classes, so you also can use one of these to get started. In the meantime, visit the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s page about suspension training for an idea of what to expect.

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