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Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness

Training your ears may improve your balance

Filed under: Balance, Fitness
Your ears are responsible for more than hearing. Your inner ear also helps you with your balance. Learn more about training this balance system.

Just like athletes, Warfighters need great balance systems for optimal performance. Your inner ear plays a big role in your ability to stay balanced and upright by sending messages to your brain about the movement of your head and body (rotating, forward, back, up, down, speeding up, or slowing down). The collection of nerves and other parts of the inner ear that form this sensory system is known as the “vestibular system.” We know that this system is more highly developed in athletes, but some evidence suggests that training the vestibular system can improve balance in less-trained athletes and non-athletes as well.

The vestibular system can be trained, much the same way as a muscle, after injury to the ears or brain, so that patients can experience normal balance again and reduce dizziness symptoms. Medical professionals and therapists use three approaches, which they can teach individuals to do on their own:

  • Adaptation. Find the areas of your vestibular system that are “off” (vision, timing, balance, or dizziness) and practice eye-head coordination to regain that skill.
  • Substitution. Learn to use different parts of your vestibular system to get the information you need to correct your balance and dizziness.
  • Habituation. Challenge your system incrementally (for example, just to the point of feeling seasick) to improve your tolerance of an activity.

Since these treatments can restore normal function in the injured athlete or Warfighter, then it’s possible that this kind of therapy can also help healthy service members develop exceptional ear-balance systems and other crucial Warfighter skills. More research is still needed, but the outlook is promising.

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.”

Don’t be a boob!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Learn about early detection and prevention.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month; but what’s important is that, after October is over and the sea of pink has ebbed, you turn your awareness into action if you haven’t done so already. Gentlemen take note: Men can get breast cancer too. 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.

While your genetics play a role in the development of some breast cancers, exercise is also an important lifestyle tool to reduce your risk for this and other cancers such as lung and colon cancer. It may even improve your chance of recovery if you’ve already been diagnosed. Numerous studies have found that regular exercise can reduce your risk for breast cancer by an average of 25%.

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. Studies have shown that sitting and other sedentary behaviors for long periods of time can negate the effects of regular exercise, for general health and cancer prevention. The good news is that household and recreational activities, followed by walking/cycling and occupational activities, have the greatest impact on reducing risk for breast cancer.

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. 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. Just another reason to get out and get active! 

Let the 2014 Warrior Games begin!

The Warrior Games are about to start. Here’s some information about this year’s events!

It’s almost time for the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs! Athletes and teams from each branch of service have already qualified in their respective trials and are set to compete from 28 September through 6 October at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado. The Warrior Games give wounded service members and veterans an opportunity to compete in adaptive sports. For some, this is a continuation of their competitive careers; for others, it’s a new experience and part of the healing process. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by to cheer on the athletes—admission is free! Semper Citius, Altius, Fortius!

 

How good are you at setting SMART goals?

Setting goals that you will actually accomplish can be easier said than done. Check out HPRC’s goal-setting worksheet to learn a formula for success!

 We all have goals—to lift a certain weight, to cycle a century, or to run a marathon in a certain amount of time. Of course, not all goals are fitness oriented; maybe you want to climb in rank at your job or finish college by a certain date. Whatever your goals are, keep in mind that they’re easier to accomplish when they’re SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Action-oriented, and Time-sensitive. Goals are not just about dreaming big; they’re about achieving.

HPRC’s printable SMART goals worksheet will help you to get on target. Using this tool will help you to:

  • think through exactly what you’re aiming for;
  • determine if the goal is a good fit for you;
  • measure and monitor your success;
  • pay attention to the language that you use; and
  • break down the overall goal into chunks.

And for more guidance on making your goals achievable, you can check out HPRC's Answer on SMART goal setting.

Help your kids be healthy through regular exercise

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. A great way to combat obesity is through a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise.

Regular exercise can build strong muscles and bones and promote overall health. It is especially important that children exercise and learn healthy habits early on. Exercise can also boost kids’ self-esteem, improve sleep, and stimulate learning in school. But do you know what kinds of exercise your children or teens should be doing? Check out HPRC’s Answer, “Put some fun in your children’s fitness,” to find out. And visit the COAM website to learn more about the American College of Sports Medicine’s National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.

Is your app backed by facts?

Make sure the information in your injury-prevention app is backed by science, not hype.

These days there’s an app for just about everything, including injury prevention. In fact, there are many apps for that. But the truth is that most of them are not backed by science. Unfortunately, among the thousands of smartphone apps in the fitness, medical, and sports categories, only a handful provide evidence-based information on injury prevention.

After sifting through hundreds of different fitness and sports-related apps, researchers in a 2012 study found only 18 apps claiming to provide tips for injury prevention and rehabilitation. Only four of these apps contained claims for which they could find supporting scientific evidence. For example, the “Ankle” app was developed to implement an exercise program based on results from a well-conducted study. Other of these four apps appeared to be evidence-based only by coincidence, not as the result of a sound background search of the scientific literature. By comparison, five apps provided tips (such as warming up, stretching, proper shoes) to prevent running injuries despite a lack of evidence that the recommended practices actually reduce risk of injury. Other apps contained equally unsupported claims in areas such as shoulder injury, plantar fasciitis, and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). One even cited published literature that did not support its claims.

If you’re searching for injury-prevention strategies, it’s important to be wary of apps that contain inaccurate or unsupported information. The visual appeal and usability of an app may not necessarily reflect the quality of information, especially when it comes to injury-prevention tips. And while the study mentioned above is more than a year old, it’s unlikely the situation has changed. Check out HPRC’s injury-prevention resources or talk to a physical therapist if you have other concerns about injury prevention. 

DOMS: The morning after (a tough workout)

Learn more about soreness after a workout, including ways to help prevent and reduce it yourself.

Have you ever felt great after a hard workout, only to find yourself incredibly sore a day or two later? Muscle pain a day or so after exercise is common among recreational athletes. Known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), this condition can be treated at home—and possibly even prevented—with simple techniques. Strategies to prevent or reduce DOMS include stretching, protein/carbohydrate recovery drinks, and cold-water immersion. Over-the-counter medications can also help with pain but should be used infrequently and at the lowest effective dose. For more detailed information about DOMS and how to prevent and recover from it, read HPRC’s Answer, “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

No pain, no gain?

Higher-intensity exercise—does it do a body good?

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 exercise? How hard should you push? And what are the benefits? 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 studied before. 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. However, new research demonstrates that pushing yourself during a workout not only helps make you mentally tough but may also release chemicals into your body that help you develop bigger, stronger muscles.

During “stressful” or high-intensity exercise, your body kicks into “fight or flight” mode and releases hormones such as adrenaline and dopamine to push your system into high gear: increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and increased oxygen to muscles. A recent study found that these hormones, when released during stressful exercise, sent messages to muscle cells to develop larger and more efficient muscles—at least in mice. The body only releases these chemicals when it feels stressed (for example, during intense exercise). If the body doesn’t feel stressed (as during light exercise), it doesn’t release these chemicals, so it can’t send signals to the muscles.

The good news is that exercise intensity is relative, so anyone should be able to exercise at a level that releases these hormones. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned athlete, you can exercise to a level that is intense for you. Shooting for your target heart rate is a good start to gauging intensity. Not every workout needs to top out the intensity scale. In fact, doing too much too often can lead to overtraining and potential injury. Remember to listen to your body and incorporate rest or light days into your workout regimen. 

Performance Triad app – (down)load and go!

Filed under: Apps, Performance
The new Performance Triad app provides important information on sleep, activity, and nutrition to help you stay ready and resilient.

If you’re looking for the latest information on how to improve your sleep, activity, and nutrition, you can find it with the new app for the Performance Triad, an initiative of the U.S. Army Surgeon General. The Performance Triad, which includes technological tools and resources, was rolled out to optimize performance for individuals and units—and ultimately to maximize readiness and resilience. The app is available for free and is available in versions for iPhone, Android, and Windows. Whether you’re a healthcare professional, active duty, spouse, or civilian, you’ll be able to find useful information tailored to you! The app provides tips on how to sleep well, stay active, and eat right. Whether you’re on the go or looking for quick answers, you’ll have lots of great information at your fingertips. This app will be updated frequently, so be sure to keep your eye on it for new information!

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