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
Being mindful means simply being extra aware, in a nonjudgmental way and in the present moment, of your physical and mental experiences, even during ordinary, everyday tasks. Mindfulness isn’t just a technique you can do or a skill you can learn. It can also refer to a way of being. In other words, some people work on becoming more mindful and others just are mindful.
Mind-body skills—including mindfulness—reduce stress and improve heart health. And mindfulness in particular (both the skills and the way of being) has become a hot topic. Much of mindfulness research has focused on medical problems, but scientists are just beginning to really understand its role in preventing heart disease.
One recent study looked at people who already tend to be mindful, so it’s hard to say that mindfulness causes the good things associated with it, but somehow they seem to be related. However, according to another study, when cardiac patients were trained to be more mindful, they made smarter decisions about nutrition and exercise.
People who already tend to be very mindful, also tend to:
- Not smoke
- Have less body fat
- Have less glucose (sugar) in their blood
- Exercise more frequently
There are a couple factors that impact how mindful you can be in the first place: 1) how in control you feel and 2) whether or not you feel depressed. When you feel in control of your life, you’re able to monitor your own behaviors and change what you’re doing. When you’re feeling down, you might run on “autopilot,” without tuning in to your body’s sensations or your thoughts.
Over time, research will tell us more about how mindfulness affects healthy behaviors and how healthy behaviors impacts mindfulness. In the meantime, there appear to be many benefits associated with training mindfulness if you don’t tend to be mindful already.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Activity monitors have become increasingly popular tools to help people get and stay on track with their fitness (and dietary) goals. But, researchers from Iowa State University wanted to see just how accurate some of the popular monitors really are when it comes to reporting how many calories you burn during exercise. It turns out that the majority of the devices they tested gave pretty accurate estimates (within 10-15% error). The BodyMedia FIT was the most accurate one tested, with only a 9.3% error rating, which is close to some more expensive devices used for research purposes. Other monitors such as the FitBit Zip, FitBit One, Jawbone Up, and Nike Fuel Band all fell below 15%. Since many people tend to overestimate their activity levels on their own, an accurate activity monitor is an important tool to help people keep better track of their exercise habits. Check out our comparison chart to find out more about these monitors.
You’ve probably seen the pictures on social media and in the news: a very pregnant woman, with a heavy barbell on her shoulders, mid squat, in an Olympic powerlifting move. But is it safe for mother and baby? If this is a situation you might find yourself in, and/or you’ve talked to your doctor about a pregnancy exercise regimen, there are some things you should know about weight lifting and exercise. Read HPRC’s “Lifting weights during pregnancy” for more information.
Running provides an inexpensive and effective way to get your child or adolescent excited about physical fitness for a lifetime. Beyond the physical health benefits, running can also lead to improvements in classroom behavior, self-control, self-esteem, alertness, enthusiasm, creativity, and maturity.
For children of all ages, running is one of the most versatile and natural physical activities. In younger children, running should be encouraged through fun activities such as tag, capture the flag, the fox and the hound, and red light green light. By keeping running fun, your child may learn to enjoy exercise at an early age, helping him or her maintain those habits as he/she gets older.
For older children interested in the sport of running, there are some additional ways to help your child become a strong, healthy runner. Learn more about proper running form, training, hydration, diet, shoes, and safety, which may help your child’s performance and may also decrease his or her risk of injury.
Inhalation of major air pollutants has been found to decrease lung function and exacerbate symptoms of exercise-induced bronchospasms, including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In order to meet oxygen demands during light- to moderate-intensity exercise, you take in more air with each breath. And when you breathe through your mouth, you bypass the nose’s natural filtration of large particles and soluble vapors. As your exercise intensity increases, you breathe faster and deeper, which also increases the amount of pollution inhaled and the depth it travels into your respiratory system.
If you live in or near a busy city, you are exposed to even more combustion-related pollutants—such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), and ozone—that can inflame your airways and worsen asthmatic responses. Exposure to freshly generated emissions is most common near areas of high vehicular traffic.
While indoor exercise is often a good alternative to limit exposure to outdoor pollutants, some indoor conditions may be just as toxic. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—the more toxic NOx—is usually higher in gas-heated homes and indoor areas with poor ventilation. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also more likely to occur indoors. When carbon monoxide is in your system, the blood carries substantially less oxygen, reducing performance and eventually leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to choose well-ventilated areas for indoor exercise.
Particulate matter and ozone are two significant pollutants you may be exposed to outdoors. Inhalation of high levels of particulates has been shown to reduce exercise performance as much as 24.4% during short-term, high-intensity cycling. Women may be more vulnerable than men to certain particulates, associated with greater decrements in performance. Ultrafine particle concentrations are highest in freshly generated automobile exhaust, and these small particles can be carried deep into the lungs. However, the further away you are from fresh exhaust, the less concentrated the particulates.
Bad ozone occurs lower in the atmosphere; it is not directly emitted into the air but is created from chemical reactions between NOx, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heat, and sunlight. Ozone levels also are higher in summer than in winter; and especially in larger, hotter cities, concentrations tend to peak around midday when solar radiation is highest. Exposure to ozone during exercise has been found to increase resting blood pressure, reduce lung function, and decrease exercise capacity.
The risks associated with not exercising at all are far greater than the risks of exercising outdoors; it just takes a little more planning on days and in conditions when pollution is bad. When planning outdoor exercise activities, follow these tips to limit your exposure to pollutants:
- Avoid exercising in areas of heavy traffic, such as along highways and during rush hour.
- During summer, exercise earlier in the morning, when ozone levels and temperatures are not as high.
- Check the domestic or international air-quality ratings to determine if it’s safe to exercise outside. Limit your time outside on Code Red and Code Orange days. Environmental conditions on these days are not healthy, especially for children, the elderly, and people with existing respiratory conditions.
- Exercise indoors when the air quality indicates high ozone and particulate levels.
- Before any demanding physical activity, limit your carbon monoxide exposure by avoiding smoky areas and long car rides in congested traffic.