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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
The saying goes that “less is more,” but when it comes to exercise intensity, that might not be the case. We know that some exercise is better than no exercise, but is more-intense exercise better than moderate-intensity exercise? How hard should you push? And what are the benefits? What are the risks? With the growing popularity of high-intensity workouts, it’s important to consider both the risks and the benefits.
The role of intensity during exercise has been demonstrated. For example, the risk of death in older adults is lower for those who walk at a faster pace than for those who walk at a more leisurely pace. Short-duration high-intensity interval exercise has similar, if not better, benefits compared to long-duration low-intensity exercise. These benefits include reduced risk for chronic disease, increased oxygen uptake, and overall improved exercise performance. Since the number one barrier to exercise individuals report is not having enough time to exercise, this is important: With increased intensity, workouts can be shorter in duration, and you can still reap the benefits. You also can feel “afterburn” following high-intensity exercise, which means your body is burning calories even after you’ve completed your workout.
The good news is that exercise intensity is relative, so you can benefit from exercise at a level that is you consider high intensity, whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned athlete. Shoot for your target heart rate as a good start to gauge intensity. Not every workout needs to top out the intensity scale. In fact, doing too much too often can lead to overtraining and injury. Remember to listen to your body and incorporate rest or light days into your workout regimen.
Girls might be at greater risk of concussion—also known as mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI)—than boys, so it’s important to recognize their symptoms and seek medical help. Female high school and college athletes report more concussion symptoms than their male counterparts. In addition, their reported symptoms are more severe and last longer than what boys experience.
In sports, a concussion can happen from hitting another player, ball, or surface with your head. It causes a disturbance in brain functioning and can lead to a number of symptoms, including headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, and sensitivity to light or noise. In addition, you might feel foggy, have difficulty concentrating or remembering things, or feel confused about recent events. You also might feel irritable, sad, or nervous. While concussions can happen in any sport, they’re most likely to occur in football, soccer, rugby, basketball, and hockey.
It’s not clear why girls experience more concussions than boys. Girls are more likely to report symptoms, whereas boys tend to keep their concerns to themselves. So it might be the case that boys and girls are concussed at the same rates, but girls report their injuries more often. Hormone levels and blood flow differences in the sexes also might contribute to the rates of concussion among girls. For girls who have entered puberty, hormonal changes experienced along with their menstrual cycles might impact the severity of concussion symptoms. It takes longer for a girl to be symptom free after her concussion, and that might be due in part to where she is in her menstrual cycle.
If you have a daughter, take steps to prevent her from experiencing a concussion. If she is diagnosed with an mTBI, she’ll need “brain rest” to recover. She also should limit reading, homework, and screen time. And consult with her doctor to make sure that concussion symptoms resolve and she’s medically cleared before she returns to play her sport.
Are you reading this article on your smartphone or tablet? Look up for a moment and observe those nearby, staring at their phones. Most people look down at their phones while reading or texting. So, what’s the problem? This posture can be a major pain in the neck—literally. Doctors and researchers are calling it “text neck,” and this poor posture is causing early wear and tear to your spine.
The human head weighs about 10–12 pounds, so looking straight ahead doesn’t add any strain to your spine. But, as you tilt your head forward, the weight of your head begins to increase the strain on your neck and spine. Even a slight, 15-degree angle increases the weight on your spine by about 27 pounds. Looking down at 60 degrees? That’s about 60 pounds. Think about it this way: That’s like carrying a couple of 30-pound ammo cans around your neck for several hours a day.
To limit your risk of text neck, look down at your device with your eyes, not your head. Better yet, hold your device up to eye level. Be aware of your posture and try adding daily exercises that strengthen your back, neck, and shoulders too.
Engaging in regular exercise is critical to maintaining optimal physical health and performance. Did you know that it also boosts your mental health and well-being? Some research suggests a strong connection between exercise and the prevention and treatment of psychological illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Exercise also might help increase positive mental states and support cognitive function throughout your life. In addition, Warfighters and their families can use daily physical activity to remain strong and mission-ready, increase resilience, and boost overall well-being. Read more...
It’s tax season, and finances are on your mind. Financial planning is important and it might help you stay on track with your fitness goals. What motivates you to exercise? Maybe it’s your New Year’s resolution, or you’re training for an upcoming event. The key is finding what works for you, so that you maintain a regular exercise routine.
For many, money can be a strong motivator for maintaining their exercise behaviors. You pay for gym memberships, fitness classes, and fancy exercise equipment—but is spending money a good way to stay motivated?
In general, people often are motivated by immediate gratification (versus being rewarded later) and by losses, rather than gains. Some research suggests that the idea of losing money is a strong motivator for maintaining an exercise program. So, if you pay for a gym membership and never use it, that sense of monetary loss can motivate you to actually go to the gym. Still, the value you place on that membership is important too. You might not feel a significant sense of loss over a $10 monthly gym membership, whereas the threat of losing $200 a month for a different membership might matter more. In one study, money was deducted from some participants’ prepaid accounts each time a fitness goal (walking 7000 steps/day) wasn’t met. Those who “lost” money experienced a greater increase in activity compared to those who were paid each day they met the same goal. For some people, losses feel worse than gains feel good.
You also might consider pre-paid or unlimited-visit gym memberships, where you pay a certain amount up front. And the more often you go, you get more bang for your buck as each class becomes cheaper.
Sometimes you need to “trick yourself” into good behaviors. Are you motivated by losses or gains? Find a trick that works for your wallet and you might find yourself in better shape for it!
If you’re struggling with back pain, therapeutic massage can bring some relief. Some evidence suggests that it can help reduce pain in your lower back and neck too.
There are many different massage techniques, such as Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, and sports massage. During a massage, a trained therapist applies pressure and other forms of manipulation (such as kneading, circular movements, or tapping) onto muscle and soft tissue. The application of pressure on different layers of skin helps stimulate blood circulation, which could alleviate pain. Massages can increase calmness and decrease anxiety, which also can relieve your pain.
Massages can be particularly effective at alleviating lower back pain, especially when combined with a strengthening and stretching program. Deep-tissue massages can relieve some post-workout muscle pain too. A soft-tissue massage around your shoulders and upper back can increase range of motion and decrease pain as well.
Massages are generally safe, but make sure you seek treatment from a trained professional. Still, a massage isn’t without risk. In rare instances, too much pressure can fracture bones or incorrectly manipulate your spine. A massage on broken, open, or irritated skin can be painful. If you’re pregnant or have a blood-thinning disorder, consult your medical professional before getting a massage.
If you have back pain, ask your doctor or medical professional about adding massages to your pain management plan. TRICARE doesn’t cover massages, but ask if your massage therapist offers discounts for service members and veterans. And, when possible, take steps to avoid injury and back pain.
Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day improves fitness and reduces your risk of chronic disease. But what you do for the other 23½ hours also can affect your health. Even though you’re getting the minimum amount of exercise, you’re at risk of “sitting disease,” if the rest of your day is spent doing sedentary activities such as sitting or sleeping. You’re still at risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses too. But there are ways to move more throughout your day.
The sedentary lifestyle
For many, a typical day is spent sitting or sedentary—whether you’re at your desk, in the car, at the dinner table, on the couch, or in bed. All this sedentary time puts you at greater risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer. The simple act of standing up has even more physiological benefits when compared to sitting. The “active couch potato” phenomenon shows that even people who are relatively fit and meet the minimum requirements for daily exercise still exhibit risk factors for metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases as sitting time increases.
Sure, you might take the dog out for its morning walk, or maybe you did PT before work. Still, the more time you spend sitting the rest of the day, the greater your risk of disease. According to this infographic from the American Institute for Cancer Research, even those who engage in moderate amounts of exercise and physical activity are still at risk of cancer if 12 or more hours in the rest of their day is spent seated or lying down.
Time is often a major reason that people say they don’t get enough exercise or physical activity during their day. It’s true that work can get busy, but it might just take a little creativity to turn it into a productive and physically active workday. It’s still unclear exactly how much exercise offsets or reduces your risk from sitting, and more research is needed in this area. In the meanwhile, try these tips to help reduce your sedentary time:
- Bike or walk to work, if possible. If you don’t live close enough to bike or walk the entire commute, try walking for at least part of your travel time. For example, park further from your building. Or choose a higher level in the parking garage.
- Take walking breaks. Walk to a coworker’s office instead of calling or emailing. Suggest a walking meeting next time you and coworkers schedule a get-together. You could walk to a cafeteria, park, or nearby bench before eating lunch. Experts suggest that even 2 minutes of walking per hour can be beneficial, so set your timer and go.
- Take the stairs. The more you climb, the easier it will get. Walk up and down escalators too instead of riding. Avoid elevators as much as possible.
- Take small standing breaks. When your phone rings, you could stand up to answer it and remain standing during the call. When someone visits your workspace, stand during your conversation. Or consider switching to a standing desk in your office.
- Use an activity tracker. Wearable technology can help remind you to stay active and keep moving.
Doing what you can to increase the amount of time you spend standing, exercising, and being physically active will improve your chances of a longer and healthier life.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) embraces the motto “fitness for life,” emphasizing that physical fitness is important at every age. The VA also is encouraging older veterans to participate in the 31st annual National Veterans Golden Age Games. The multi-day event, a premier senior adaptive sport rehabilitation program, is open to veterans 55 years and older who are enrolled in the VA health care system.
Over 700 vets are expected to attend the multi-sport games in Biloxi, Mississippi from May 7–11, 2017. Competitive events include air rifle, badminton, bocce, bowling, cycling, golf, pickleball (a cross between Ping-Pong and tennis), and more.
Whether you’ve already experienced a shoulder injury or avoided one, there are simple exercises you can do to maintain healthy shoulders. Shoulder dislocations are more common among military personnel than civilians. This might be explained by service members’ increased use of their upper extremities for job-related duties. The bad news is there aren’t any known avoidable risk factors associated with shoulder dislocation because it usually results from a single traumatic event. Once you’ve had a dislocation, you’re also at increased risk of experiencing another one.
The good news is healthy, strong shoulders can help reduce your risk of injury. HPRC’s RX3 Shoulder Pain section highlights exercises that are ideal for rehabilitating an injured or painful shoulder. These exercises also can help maintain healthy, uninjured shoulders! Or check out the Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling System (NOFFS) Virtual Trainer strength exercises.
Make sure to see your doctor if your shoulder pain worsens or swelling occurs.
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!