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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Remembering on Memorial Day

Filed under: Memorial Day
Memorial Day is not only a time to remember those who have served but to remember how to serve those who do.

Today is Memorial Day. Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” after the Civil War. In 1882, Decoration Day became widely known as Memorial Day, and after WWII it became a day to remember all our fallen heroes, not just those from the Civil War. In 1967, Congress passed the law making it an official holiday to be celebrated on May 30, subsequently changed to the last Monday of May. We at HPRC extend our greatest appreciation to those who have perished for our nation and offer our sincere sympathy for the families left behind. There are many ways people choose to remember those who gave their lives as a supreme sacrifice to our country and its ideals. HPRC is dedicated to providing our Warfighters and their families the information they need to build resilience to prevent injury and illness and carry out their missions as safely and effectively as possible. Our desire is to reduce the level of sacrifice our warriors have to make as they fulfill their future missions for us and for our nation.

Is hot yoga too hot?

Bikram yoga, or “hot yoga,” has become a popular activity for fitness, flexibility, strength, and mindfulness. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Individuals who practice Bikram (hot) yoga find themselves in a 104°F room for up to 90 minutes, performing various poses and breathing exercises. This intense form of yoga claims to improve flexibility, mental focus, strength, and overall fitness. Researchers have found that Bikram yogis exhibit lower stress levels, improved endurance, muscle strength, and balance after as few as 20 yoga sessions in 8 weeks. Some older adults who participated in Bikram yoga even experienced a decrease in body-fat and improved overall glucose tolerance.

Despite these potential benefits, there are also risks with doing yoga in such an extreme environment. During a Bikram yoga session, people’s core temperature and heart rate can reach dangerous levels associated with heat illness. To reduce the risks, experts suggest sessions of 60 minutes or less, slightly lower room temperatures, and frequent water breaks. Instructors should remind their students to stay hydrated and replenish the water that they’re losing through sweat. If your instructor discourages water breaks, you should find a new instructor.

If you’re new to yoga, we recommend starting off with more traditional styles of yoga that do not involve high temperatures. Traditional styles and gentle yoga (including stretching with yoga) are also beneficial and safer for adults who may be less heat tolerant and/or are beginners.

Many people find Bikram yoga to be challenging and enjoyable, but it’s important to be smart about this kind of workout. 

Underfueling can lead to underperformance

Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred fuel for performance, so what happens when you skimp on carbohydrates?

If you limit carbohydrates and underfuel your body, your performance may suffer. Carbs feed the working muscles and help maintain blood sugar. In addition, carbs help you recover after a difficult workout or mission.

Underfueling by limiting carbohydrates can be intentional—when limiting calories, avoiding gluten, or losing weight. Or you may be limiting carbs unintentionally if you are unsure how many carbs to eat or if you’re are skipping meals or snacks due to limited time or money. And female warriors are more susceptible to under-fueling.

So what type of carbs should you be eating? Properly fuel your body by filling your plate two-thirds to three-fourths with carbs such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and dairy. Choose a variety of fruit and vegetables to maximize vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Whole-grain breads, grains, and pastas provide more performance-boosting nutrients than white-flour and refined versions. Low-fat dairy products contribute carbs along with protein and calcium.

Carbohydrate needs differ depending your activity, type of exercise, and intensity, and your calorie needs and may change from day to day. For more information on carbohydrate needs before, during, and after activities, see HPRC’s An Athlete's Guide to Everyday Nutrient Timing.

Keep on eye on your weight and performance to help you determine if you’re taking in too few carbs. If you’re losing weight without trying or find yourself having trouble performing at your best, you may be underfueling. For more personalized recommendations on carbohydrate intake, visit a registered dietitian.

Too loud for you to hear?

There are some tips you can use to prevent exposure to hazardous noise levels recreationally and occupationally.

A staggering number of Americans (approximately 36 million) have hearing loss, and one-third of those probably could have been prevented. Hearing loss continues to be a safety hazard for Warfighters at home and in the field. So how do we combat this not-so-silent epidemic?  Here are a few tips to help you protect your hearing.

  • Wear a hearing protective device (HPD). HPDs should be worn for noise levels at or above 85dB. Not sure what 85dB really means? Check out this guide to occupational noise levels.  Also check out “How Loud is Too Loud?,” a graphic designed to inform Warfighters about how and when to choose the proper HPD for their jobs.
  • Learn how to wear your HPD correctly. Even if you have the correct protection, it may not be effective if you’re not wearing it correctly.
  • Always have disposable HPDs handy. Disposable HPDs are lightweight and easily portable. Make them a part of your everyday gear.

For more information about how to protect yourself against or to seek help for hearing loss check out the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence website or make an appointment with your local hearing loss treatment center.

High-intensity exercise for your teen

April is the “Month of the Military Child.” Learn how to help your child stay fit for a healthier tomorrow.

High-intensity exercise is no longer a new fitness fad, and your children can benefit from this type of exercise too. It’s established as the most efficient way to improve overall fitness. And with this month’s focus on military children’s health, now is the time to teach yours good habits for the future.

This doesn’t mean that you need to take your children to a trainer for high-intensity interval training. What it does mean is that they should be getting the type of exercise or play that makes them breathe hard and gets their heart thumping. Both traditional and high-intensity exercise improve fitness in children and teens. This can be useful if you find your children getting bored doing the same kind of exercise or play all the time.

Remember when encouraging your child or teen to be active to let them find the kinds of activities and play that are most enjoyable for them. If your child is a competitive athlete and/or being trained by a professional, keep an eye out for symptoms of overuse, overtraining, and other injuries. Developing kids can experience the same kinds of injuries as adults. Help your child stay fit and healthy, and keep your family ready and resilient. 

National Veterans Wheelchair Games

April 15th is the registration deadline for the National Veterans Wheelchair games. The event is open to veterans who need a wheelchair to participate in sporting events.

April 15th brings to mind the dreaded tax deadline. But it’s also the registration deadline for a much more enjoyable event: The 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games. The games will be held in Dallas, Texas, June 21–26, 2015. Participation in the games is open to veterans who require a wheelchair for athletic competition due to spinal cord injuries, amputations, multiple sclerosis, or other neurologic conditions. Events include air pistols, air rifle, archery, basketball, bowling, hand cycling, motor rally, power soccer, quad rugby, and more! To register and get more information, go to wheelchairgames.org/registration/. And for those of you not competing, consider volunteering. See the website’s volunteer page to learn how.

Listen to your heart

With special equipment, you can manage your emotional stress as well as the timing and intensity of your physical training.

As your heart beats, the amount of time between these beats varies. In other words, your heart rate is constantly changing—speeding up and slowing down. Though it might seem counterintuitive, more of this “heart rate variability” (HRV) is better for both your physical health and how you cope with stress. And you can learn to listen and use it.

Some heart-rate monitors allow you to monitor your HRV and the effects of different training routines on it. Or you can check out biofeedback to help you master stress-management techniques such as paced breathing by giving you immediate feedback about your heart rate. Either way, HRV is a tool that can help you find the optimal timing for recovery or lighter training within your long-term workout regimen. In fact, HRV can even show when you’re at greatest risk for injury.

Pushing yourself is an important part of performance optimization, but you also need to regulate your emotional and physical stress. Biofeedback can help with your emotions, and heart-rate monitors that measure HRV can help optimize your physical training over months and years. Visit “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best” to learn more about how you can use HRV.

Is your Achilles tendon an uphill battle?

The Achilles tendon is stronger than you think, even when running hills.

The Achilles tendon (on the back of your ankle) is a common site for injury, especially for runners. And many people think running hills increases the likelihood of injuring their Achilles. Hill running provides many health benefits (cardiovascular endurance, strength, performance, etc.), but do the benefits outweigh the risk to your ankles? For the most part, the answer is, yes! The effects on your Achilles tendon while running on a flat surface, uphill, and downhill are all similar, meaning the risk of injury is no greater when running uphill or downhill than on the flat. Achilles injuries usually happen because of a combination of internal (ankle misalignment, muscle weakness, decreased flexibility) and external factors (footwear, over training, humidity, altitude). With movement, however, the Achilles tendon becomes more flexible, so a proper warm-up before exercise will help prevent injury.

What this suggests is that running hills isn’t necessarily a cause of injury to the Achilles tendon. More likely causes include progressing too quickly as a new athlete or not properly recovering from an injury. If you’re recovering from a previous injury to your Achilles tendon, talk to your doctor or therapist about when it’s safe to run again and how much hill running you are able to do. Be gradual in your return to running, especially hills. Don’t try to sprint up or down anything too steep too soon. But as long as you’re healthy, at your next hill encounter, be confident and take it on; your body is more likely to benefit than not.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Learn how to recognize and prevent eye problems associated with extended computer monitor use.

As you read this article right now, your eyes are working harder than they would if you were reading a book or even watching TV. Attention, desk warriors! If you stare at a computer for most of the day, you could leave work experiencing dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. 90% of people who work on a computer experience symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. Symptoms include blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, eye strain, irritation, redness, and any number of other ocular symptoms.

Computers have become a necessity in our world, so monitors are here to stay. Here are some of the causes of CVS and some tips to help you protect your eyes from the screen:

  • Blinking. One of the main symptoms of CVS is eye dryness. This occurs for two reasons: First, your eyes are focusing on the same depth of field for an extended period of time; second, unlike the non-stop action on a TV screen, there may be little movement happening on your computer screen. The lack of movement and constant field depth leads to less blinking and, therefore, eye dryness.
    Fix it
    by spending 30 seconds every hour or so adjusting your eyes to something far away. If you work in a small office, put up a picture and focus on something small in the background. This change in depth of field will exercise your eyes, and you’ll blink more!
  • Monitors. The pixels on a computer screen can cause some problems. Because they are not all the same brightness, they don’t produce the same contrast. And they can cause words or pictures on the screen to look fuzzy, straining your eyes and contributing to CVS.
    Fix it
    by investing in a good LCD monitor if you have not done so already. LCD monitors reduce glare and contrast, as compared with older types of monitors. If you already have an LCD monitor, then talk to an ophthalmologist about getting some reading glasses to help reduce eye strain. Adjusting the lighting in the room and/or on your computer screen can also help soften the symptoms of CVS.
  • Existing vision problems. You may already have a vision problem that went undiagnosed until you started staring at a computer. Extended computer use can exaggerate already existing eye conditions and lead to some of the symptoms of CVS.
    Fix it
    by talking to a physician about corrective lenses. The Vision Center of Excellence has excellent resources from the VA and DoD for vision support.

In summary: Protect your eyes from CVS by taking frequent breaks from the computer, by blinking more often, and by making sure you work in an ergonomically efficient office setup. If you want to more information about CVS, check out “A Survival Guide to Computer Workstations.”

Check out Performance Triad’s new materials

Looking for information to help optimize your sleep, activity, and nutrition? Check out the new materials posted by the Army Public Health Command.

Two new performance optimization documents are now available on the U.S. Army Public Health Command website. The Performance Triad Guide contains useful tools and strategies for optimizing your sleep, activity, and nutrition.

The Sleep section includes ten effective sleep habits, strategies for addressing sleep countermeasures (caffeine and supplements, for example), and considerations for a sleep management plan, including relaxation techniques.

Activity has tips for meeting your exercise goals, how to achieve the functional fitness required to succeed on the PRT, as well as information on injury prevention that includes safe running strategies and shoe selection.

Nutrition provides detailed information on nutrition for performance, daily carbohydrate and protein calculators, hydration, nutrient timing for peak performance, and dietary supplements.

The Performance Triad Challenge, designed for squad and unit leaders, provides information organized into six areas: the professional soldier athlete, physical dominance, cognitive dominance, emotional dominance, sustained operations, and social, family, and spiritual information. The beginning of each module features a leader’s guide for identifying target areas for improvement.

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