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
Look around you. How many people do you see looking down at their smartphones? Are you reading this article on your phone or tablet? Most people look down at their phones while reading or texting. The problem with this posture it can be a major pain in the neck—literally. Doctors and researchers are calling it “text neck,” and they’re saying that this poor posture while looking at your phone is causing early wear and tear to the spine. The human head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds. 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 to 27 pounds. Looking down at 60 degrees? That’s about 60 pounds. Think about carrying a couple of 30-pound ammo cans around your neck for several hours a day.
To limit your risk for 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.
It seems that just about everyone is a runner these days, and it’s an essential part of being a Warfighter. Since 1990, the number of road race finishers in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. Participation in the largest road races has increased 77% in 14 years! More runners means more who need to learn about running injuries. Check how injury savvy you are with the infographic below, courtesy of the Sports Performance and Rehabilitation Department of the Hospital for Special Surgery, educational partners for the New York City Marathon.
Sweating is a normal, healthy response to exercise or to a hot environment—it’s our body’s way of regulating temperature. When sweat evaporates, it takes your body heat with it, which cools you down. But did you know that how soon you start sweating also indicates how fit you are? Fitter folks start sweating sooner, and sweat more, than the folks who are not as fit. It seems a conditioned body recognizes the change in environment (or circumstances) sooner responds more quickly than an unconditioned (less fit) one. While sweat isn’t generally a good indicator of how hard you’re working out, or the intensity of exercise, it may be a sign of how conditioned you are.
Note that, while men generally sweat more than women do, it doesn’t mean that men are more fit than women. Men and women even have the same number of sweat glands, but men’s sweat glands produce more sweat per gland.
So next time you find yourself changing out of a sweat-drenched shirt, be proud! You trained hard for that sweat!
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.