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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
Returning to duty after a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI; also referred to as acute concussion) requires a special recovery process. Until now, procedures used by military healthcare professionals were largely based on sports-related mTBI practices, which are not always appropriate for returning Warfighters to military activities and demands. Medical and military experts worked together to develop new recommendations for returning service members to military activity after mild traumatic brain injury. The six-step process includes progressing from rest through light to moderate activity and exercise and eventually to unrestricted activity. Patients cannot progress until they are symptom free at any given stage in the process. Almost 84% of military brain injuries in 2014 were from mTBI/concussions. Some of the most common causes of concussions occur in non-deployed setting. While not all mTBI/concussions are preventable, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk in your day-to-day life:
- Always wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle.
- Wear a helmet when suitable (for example, on a bicycle or motorcycle).
- Create safe living spaces to reduce falls. Remove or secure potentially hazardous items from floors and overhead.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Try these Mind Tactics Performance Strategies to improve your ability to control your attention.
You’re watching what you eat. You’re exercising regularly. You’re doing everything right. But for some reason, your weight-loss goal is just out of reach. It seems those “last 10 pounds” are often the hardest ones to shake! Fortunately, with continued effort and persistence, you likely can achieve your weight-loss goals.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to make sure the goals you’ve set for yourself are realistic, healthy, and sustainable. After that, it’s time to get to work.
Go back to square one. That is, make sure you’re as careful about what you choose to eat now as when you first started on your weight-loss journey. Sometimes we lapse into old habits over time and start “allowing” unhealthy choices to creep back into our diet patterns. Keeping a food diary will help you keep track of what you’re really eating. And don’t forget to watch your portion sizes.
Be a weekend warrior. Many people find it harder to make healthy choices on the weekend—tailgate parties, family celebrations, and road trips all offer opportunities to “slip.” But eating healthy is a full-time job, so it’s important to plan ahead: Take a low-fat dish that you’ve prepared and choose restaurants where you know you’ll have healthy options available.
Stand up for yourself. Literally. Standing, rather than sitting, can burn as many as 200 to 300 calories per day and can help prevent many types of disease. Find as many opportunities in your day to stand, walk, and move as much as you can. Check out HPRC’s blog about “sitting disease” for more information about the risks of sitting too much.
Shake things up. Varying the type and intensity of your exercise is a great way to challenge yourself and prevent boredom—and can make a big difference toward achieving your goals.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important not only in the short term (for your performance as well as your career) but also in the long term, reducing your risk of many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.
Think of a goal that you’ve been working for lately or that you’re about to go after. How about all those New Year’s resolutions? Do you know why you want it? In other words, what’s your motivation? Do you simply love what you’re doing, or is there a reward you are pursuing?
Being clear about what motivates you can help fuel your motivation with intention. For example, if you’re a runner, maybe you love the feeling of pushing yourself hard with training runs. On the other hand, maybe it’s the end result—the accomplishment—associated with completing another marathon that’s the fuel to keep you going or even push you to the next level.
There isn’t one right form of motivation, and your motivators might be a mix of little steps and big outcomes. Remember to enjoy the steps along the way; they can make the experience more enjoyable. But sometimes remembering your ultimate goal can help you persist on days when you’re just not feeling it.
Often when you’re pursuing a goal, you’re part of a larger community, and you may find that just being involved is motivation itself because of the people you meet, the places you see, or the experiences you have along the way! It’s true what they say: The journey matters.
Have you ever wondered how different people’s perceptions of the same thing can be so drastically different? Take exercise, for example. You know it’s good for you, and most people should be doing more of it. Yet when asked, some people will say they love to exercise, while others see it as an overwhelming and impossible task. Our perceptions say a lot about what we value, how we’re feeling, and what we desire, which in turn affects motivations, actions, and even physical performance.
You probably find that the goals that seem more in reach are more desirable (for example, money, food, or a finish line) than the ones that seem further away. For example, when you’re at the end of a race, and you can see the finish line in front of you, you’ll probably estimate that the finish line is closer to you than it really is. Whether or not the goal is actually closer, believing that it is triggers excitement and effort towards achieving these goals.
That’s all well and good if you’re already out running that race, but sometimes getting off the couch is the hardest thing to do when you’re out of shape. Runners who are less fit and less motivated estimate distance to a finish line as being farther than do runners who are fit and more highly motivated. So even if you want to get in shape, sometimes your poor fitness can affect your perception of being able to achieve your fitness goals.
While negative perceptions might make it harder to get in shape, this doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape just because you’re less fit. Keep your eye on the prize! Exercisers who focus on an end goal and ignore the distractions around them perceive their goal as being nearer and actually perform better; most importantly, they don’t consider the exercise as difficult.
So, if you see your goals as being closer to you in your mind, you will have something to look forward to. This “prize” could be anything. It could literally be the finish line; it could be the next milestone on your route, such as the building at the end of the block; or it could even be a post-race reward, such as a healthy post-workout smoothie. Remember, some goals are harder to achieve than others, but you can stay the course by imagining what is coming and keeping the self-talk positive. This will help keep your motivation high and the prize within reach.
It’s officially “holiday season,” and maintaining your fitness can be a challenge. You might find yourself socializing and eating more, with less time (and motivation) to exercise. Get your workout routine into the holiday spirit too—without having to sacrifice a lot of time.
- Take the Guard Your Health Fitmas Challenge! Each day for twelve days, commit to doing one of these exercises.
- Try interval training with this high-intensity workout from the American College of Sports Medicine, which requires little or no equipment.
- Make workouts social by getting your friends and family involved.
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.