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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

Minimalist running shoes: Do they really prevent injuries?

Barefoot-style running and minimalist running shoes are growing in popularity, but some new research now shows there are risks.

Barefoot-style, or minimalist, running shoes are still growing in popularity in the military, and the debate continues over whether this style of running prevents injuries or just causes different injuries. There is new research on minimalist running shoes (MRS) and their impact on lower leg and foot injury. After a 10-week study, runners who transitioned to Vibram FiveFinger minimalist running shoes showed signs of injury to their foot bones, while the runners who used traditional running shoes showed none. The types of injuries the MRS runners demonstrated were early signs of inflammation, which may or may not be associated with pain or joint dysfunction. If they are, it might be difficult for the runner to know he/she is actually injured until it is too late and the injury has progressed. More research is needed to determine if other factors (weight, running form/style, mileage, running surface) contribute to injuries associated with barefoot-style running. At least one recent study suggests running style may be a factor. For more in-depth information, read HPRC’s InfoReveal.

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

Did you know that May is the National Physical Fitness and Sports Month?

May is National Physical Fitness and Sports month so get out and get moving—and include your family! There are lots of great reasons to add exercise to your daily routine: It decreases your risk for chronic health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease and improves your mental health. Getting outside for a walk with your children can be great bonding time and may even help them (and you) sleep better at night! You can find ideas to incorporate physical activity into your life, including interactive tool kits and planners, at the Federal Occupational Health website. HPRC also provides resources (family friendly ones, too) to help you get started and stay on track!

Take some weight off your knees—or pay the price

A 2012 study demonstrated that an increase in body mass index (BMI) increased a person’s chance of sustaining a non-contact ACL injury.

Being overweight puts you at risk for a whole host of health issues, but most people don’t think about the risk posed to their knees. The anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, is one of the major ligaments of the knee and one of the most susceptible to injury. Injury information on more than 1,600 men and women at the U.S. Naval Academy showed that those with a higher body mass index (BMI) had a greater incidence of ACL tears. A difference in BMI of only 1.2 (25.6 versus 24.4) made the difference between having and not having this kind of injury. (To learn more about BMI, read HPRC's explanation.)

Like the adage “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone,” knees are something we generally take for granted. To stay on top of your game, you need your knees. An easy way to protect them is to drop the extra weight you’re asking them to carry around.

Announcing the 2013 Strong B.A.N.D.S. campaign

The Army’s yearly Strong B.A.N.D.S campaign, set to run in May, focuses on providing education and activities that support “Balance, Activity, Nutrition, Determination, and Strength.”

The annual Army “Strong B.A.N.D.S.” campaign is set to launch for another year beginning in May. Strong B.A.N.D.S. promotes physical fitness, nutrition, optimal health, and resilience by focusing on Balance, Activity, Nutrition, Determination, and Strength—forming the acronym B.A.N.D.S. The campaign has activities at numerous garrisons to help educate soldiers, their families, and civilians. Strong B.A.N.D.S. is a campaign of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation directorate and is “designed to energize and inspire community members to live a healthy lifestyle.”

Check out the website for detailed information and to see if there is a Strong B.A.N.D.S. activity near you.

May 1 Priority Registration for Army 10-Miler

Filed under: Army
Be one of 35,000 runners at the 29th annual Army 10-miler this October. Race fees and sponsor contributions support the Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs.

Both service members and civilians with at least seven Army 10-miler finishes under their belt are eligible for one of the 10,000 bibs available via early registration starting May 1st just after midnight for the 29th annual Army 10-Miler on Sunday, October 20, 2013. Service members must register with their .mil email addresses. Regular registration opens on May 15. Visit the Army 10-miler website for more information.

Be flexible in your approach to fitness

It’s good to be strong, but don’t forget about flexibility. Improving it can boost your performance and reduce your risk for injury if done correctly.

Increasing your flexibility with a regular stretching routine can help improve your performance by allowing your joints to move with greater range of motion (ROM) with each step, swing, or turn. Stretching also is a great way to increase the blood flow to your muscles, so it can be helpful prior to PT or sporting events. You can start increasing your flexibility with simple stretching and foam rolling exercises; check out our Performance Strategies for tips on how to begin.

Are your kids active enough?

This week, the spotlight’s on children and teenagers—and whether they’re getting the exercise they need.

Previously HPRC reported on how much physical activity healthy adults need. This week, the spotlight’s on children and teenagers—and whether they’re getting the exercise they need.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day, including:

  • Aerobic exercise for most of the 60 minutes. Most days can include either vigorous-intensity activities (such as running, swimming, and jumping rope) or moderate-intensity activities (such as walking or skateboarding), but at least three days a week it should include at least some vigorous-intensity exercise. Check out Let’s Move! for ideas on how to get active as a family.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities such as playing tug of war, exercising with resistance bands, or climbing on playground equipment. Strengthening exercises should be done at least three times a week. For safety guidelines on strength training for children and teens, check out this article from HPRC.
  • Bone-strengthening (impact) activities such running, jumping rope, basketball, tennis, and hopscotch. Impact activities strengthen bones and promote healthy growth and also should be done at least three times a week.

For more ideas on moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activities, check out the table in Chapter 3: Active Children and Adolescents of the Physical Activity Guidelines. For more ideas on getting fit as a family check out Let’s Move, a comprehensive initiative by the First Lady. For military-specific resources, check out HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain.

Moms-to-be: Keep the “active” in active duty

Pregnancy is a special time for most women, but it can be especially challenging for women in the military. Exercise before, during, and after pregnancy to help keep you and your baby healthy.

There are more than 200,000 women in the military today—almost 15% of active duty members. Not surprisingly then, pregnancy in the military has become a hot health topic as more and more women choose to serve. Even though most women should exercise during pregnancy, pregnant women still engage in less physical activity than their non-pregnant counterparts. Being active during pregnancy has a lot of health benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight and reducing risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, stress, operative or assisted deliveries, and labor time. Remember this very important message – Don’t ignore pain or fatigue; listen to your body and consult your healthcare provider if you have concerns!

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that healthy pregnant women engage in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 150 minutes a week, which comes out to around 20-30 minutes a day. Women who already engage in vigorous-intensity exercise can continue physical activity at this level as long as they remain healthy and check with their healthcare provider about when to adjust activity levels (and what limits they should keep in mind). A healthy fetus is not adversely affected even by vigorous exercise, but be careful that you don’t overdo it. Remember that your body is changing with pregnancy—it may take more effort to do the same exercises you did before you were pregnant, and you may not realize when you’re pushing yourself too hard. Monitor your heart rate and use tools such as the talk test to gauge intensity. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has adopted the age-based heart rate ranges for pregnant women from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada.

After giving birth, you may find that the “baby weight” gained during pregnancy is stubbornly hanging around.  Excess weight carries a whole host of adverse health risks, so keep moving—even walking for 45 minutes three to four times per week at low to moderate intensity can reduce risk of chronic disease. As with any exercise program, resuming activity after giving birth should be a gradual process (after consulting with your Doctor).

Certain general precautions should be taken with exercise during pregnancy. Avoid contact sports and exercises that increase the risk of falling. Avoid exercises that require stomach-down (supine) positions, with the exception of swimming during pregnancy, which doesn’t place stress on your joints like other forms of exercise do. Regular exercise before you get pregnant can help you prepare for the physical changes that occur during pregnancy and keep you ready and resilient for your family and your military service.

If you’re pregnant, keep in mind there isn’t any consensus about exercising at altitude, so it’s even more important to know the symptoms of acute mountain sickness (AMS). Take time to acclimatize if you travel to altitudes above 2500 meters and allow two or three days before exercising moderately. Wait for complete acclimatization before engaging in heavy exercise.

First and foremost, however, if you become pregnant, consult with your healthcare provider before starting or continuing any exercise routine. Also, each service branch has its own policies regarding pre- and post-natal exercise (available via HPRC’s pregnancy resources page).

Exercise for the rest of us!

Just because you’re not an active-duty Warfighter doesn’t mean you don’t need exercise. Use these guidelines to make sure you’re getting enough.

Getting enough exercise is important to everyone’s mental and physical health in order to achieve optimal performance. Active-duty Warfighters usually get enough exercise in the course of their mission, but for the rest of us in the sphere of the military—family members, desk warriors, and the like—it can take more effort, so sometimes it’s helpful to review.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that:

Aerobic exercise: For health benefits, adults should do at least 2.5 hours (or 150 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercise.

  • For the greatest health benefits, adults should do aerobic exercise of moderate intensity for five hours, or 300 minutes, weekly, or 2.5 hours or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or an equivalent combination of both.
  • Do aerobic activity for at least 10 minutes at a time, preferably spread throughout the week.
  • Don’t know how to gauge your exercise intensity? Check out ACSM’s video on aerobic intensity or the description from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Examples of moderate-intensity activities include walking at three miles an hour, water aerobics, biking less than 10 mph, and gardening; vigorous-intensity activities include jogging or running, swimming laps, singles tennis, biking more than 10 mph, jumping rope, and hiking. Another method for determining exercise intensity is to keep track of your heart rate; use this explanation from CDC for how to determine your target heart rate for various activity levels.
  • A general guideline for time spent exercising is that two minutes of moderate-intensity activity is equal to one minute of vigorous-intensity activity.
  • For exercise ideas, check out ACSM’s video on types of aerobic exercise and/or HPRC’s Performance Strategies on Rebuilding Cardiovascular Fitness.

Strength training: Do muscle-strengthening exercises (resistance of moderate or high intensity) that involve all major muscle groups at least twice a week.

Finally, remember to stretch after your workouts. For some basic ideas on stretching, check out ACSM’s pictorial sheet, their video on stretching basics, or HPRC’s Performance Strategies to “Improve your flexibility.”

“MATs”—The future of injury prevention in the military?

The Army hopes to minimize injuries and optimize performance by investing early in the health of its soldiers with Musculoskeletal Action Teams (MATs).

Injury prevention is the key to optimizing soldier-athlete performance, which is why Fort Benning deployed Musculoskeletal Action Teams (MATs) to their 194th Armored Brigade and their 198th Infantry Brigade as part of a two-year pilot study. The MATs consist of physical therapists, physical therapy technicians, athletic trainers, and strength-conditioning coaches. MATs have three main principles: injury prevention, precision PRT, and human performance optimization. The MATs offer basic trainees injury screenings, early treatment of minor injuries, and instruction on proper training technique. Trainees are also given guidance on correct footwear, management skills, and strategies to prevent common exercise mistakes that may lead to injury, as well as briefings on subjects like nutrition and preventative exercises.

The aim of this study is to educate soldier athletes. By learning to manage your own health and fitness, you’re more prepared to complete your mission safely. The goal: You and your fellow soldier athletes should have less need for medical treatment facilities because you’ll be equipped with your own preventative strategies, which you can use throughout your career. This study is also being conducted at Fort Ill, OK, Fort Lee, VA, and Fort Leonard, MO. The study will wrap up in April 2013, at which time the researchers will evaluate the results.

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