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
Is it safe to exercise when I’m sick? This is a common question, especially from people who have strict workout schedules and aren’t likely to let the sniffles get in the way of their physical fitness. Benefits of exercise include weight control, improved mood, more energy, and better sleep. What’s more, just 30 minutes of regular exercise three or four times per week can boost your immune system and improve overall health, helping to keep those colds at bay.
Moderate exercise while you’re sick can be safe and in certain cases may actually improve symptoms (such as relieving congestion and increasing energy). But first you need to determine “how sick is sick.” You can figure this out by using the “neck rule.” If you have symptoms above the neck—including sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, or watery eyes—then moderate workouts can continue. If symptoms are below the neck—including cough, fever, fatigue, or body aches—then rest is in order until the symptoms are gone. You can also use your temperature to determine whether exercising is okay. If you have a temperature of 101°F or higher, moderate or vigorous exercise is not wise because of the risk of heat-related illnesses and dehydration.
Ultimately, the decision to exercise when you’re sick is up to you. If you’re too weak and fatigued to get out of bed, exercising may not be the best thing to do at that time. However, if you have symptoms of a cold and your temperature is below 101°F, light to moderate exercise may be beneficial. You should consider seeing a doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or get worse.
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.
Training on a treadmill versus running outside – is there a difference, besides the scenery? Is one better than the other? These are frequently asked questions in the running world, especially when the weather makes outdoor running a challenge. Researchers provide a short answer: Training on the treadmill and “overground” running are not the same.
If you’ve experienced treadmill running and find yourself more tired afterwards than you would on an outdoor run, you’re not alone. Studies have found that athletes actually run slower on a treadmill than their normal pace outside, although they perceive treadmill running as being more exhausting. In other words, even though it feels more difficult, treadmill running is usually less intense and less physically challenging than running outdoors.
However, running indoors can be helpful if you’re recovering from an injury since running on a treadmill is easier on your joints than running outside on concrete or even grass.
Bottom line up front, you do run differently on a treadmill than you do outside, even if you don’t realize it. If you’re training for an outdoor race, ideally you should run most of your training miles outside. When you want to or need to run indoors on a treadmill, set the incline at 1–2% to increase your exertion level to more closely replicate your outdoor runs.
If you do decide to run outside during a cold spell, take a look at our article with tips for staying safe and the many resources where you can find more ways to keep warm and hydrated even in frigid weather. Remember: Whether you stay in or venture out, any exercise is better than none!
The Female Athlete Triad is a condition that commonly affects physically active girls and women, especially those involved in activities such as dance or gymnastics that have a heavy emphasis on weight and physical appearance. The Triad is characterized by energy deficiency, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss). Poor eating habits combined with high-intensity exercise can cause energy deficiency, although energy deficiency can occur even without disordered eating. Over time, estrogen decreases and causes menstrual cycles to become irregular or stop completely. However, estrogen is also important for building strong bones, so when estrogen levels drop, bones become weaker and osteoporosis can develop.
Female Warfighters can be at risk for developing the Triad if they don’t get enough calories and if training is too intense. In the short term, lack of energy will lead to fatigue and difficulty concentrating—an equation for poor performance. Continued energy deficiency, though, can lead to muscle loss and decreased strength, putting you at higher risk for injury. Then, even when you’re training hard, your performance may fail to improve or actually worsen.
You can prevent the Female Athlete Triad easily by focusing on your overall health and nutrition rather than your weight. Food is the fuel that helps you to perform at your best.
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.
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.”
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!