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HPRC Fitness Arena: Physical Fitness
Reports estimate that one of every four deaths is attributed to heart disease. Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) activities such as jogging, cycling, and swimming directly improve the function of the heart, which decreases the risk of coronary artery disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stroke, and type II diabetes. Aerobic fitness is important enough that all active-duty service members must complete an aerobic fitness assessment, such as a maximal effort timed run, as part of their annual physical fitness test.
To delve a little deeper about the changes your heart, lungs, and blood vessels undergo when you improve your aerobic fitness, read on. One important change that occurs is that your heart’s “stroke volume”—the amount of blood the heart pumps out with each beat—increases. This comes from an increase in your heart’s strength and ability to hold a greater amount of blood. This in turn reduces your heart rate (HR) both at rest and at all levels of exercise. In fact, with consistent training, your resting HR could likely decrease as much as eight to10 beats per minute. That’s about 5 million fewer heartbeats in a year! Simply put, aerobic training means your heart has to do less work to get your job done.
Changes also occur to your blood and blood vessels with aerobic fitness. Your blood vessels increase in diameter and are better able to expand and constrict. This allows blood to move through your blood vessels with less resistance, reducing your blood pressure. And what happens to your blood? The levels of plasma (the liquid portion of the blood), red blood cells, and hemoglobin all increase, which means that your blood can carry more oxygen.
Altogether, the physiological changes mentioned here should make it easy to see why aerobic exercise is so important. If you want to learn more about how to get started improving your cardiorespiratory health through exercise, visit these Performance Strategies from HPRC.
Operation Live Well is a new wellness campaign by the Department of Defense that aims to make healthy living the easy choice and the norm for service members, retirees, DoD civilians, and their families. They point out resources for how to eat better, stay physically active, quit or avoid tobacco, and stay mentally fit. The educational, outreach, and behavior-change initiatives provide tools and resources to help you learn about healthy lifestyles. You’ll also be able to develop your own personalized health plan via the Operation Live Well website soon.
A second part of Operation Live Well is their Healthy Base Initiative (HBI), which aims to help the defense community reach or maintain a healthy weight and avoid tobacco use. Scheduled for launch during the summer of 2013 at 13 military installations and DoD sites worldwide, HBI will offer a range of installation-tailored, health-related programs that will be measured for their effectiveness. The programs that are most successful will eventually be expanded to other installations.
For more information on Operation Live Well, visit militaryonesource.mil/olw.
If you’ve injured a muscle or tendon during your PT training and wondered if that elastic tape that comes in bright colors could help you, read on. Elastic therapeutic tape is significantly different from regular elastic bandages, and it became popular during the 2008 Beijing Olympics when athletes such as professional beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh used it. Both are used to treat athletic injuries such as strains and sprains, but they produce their benefits in different ways. Elastic therapeutic tape is made of a thin material with thickness and elasticity similar to that of human skin. When taped on skin it supports injured muscles. However, it has also been reported that it helps relieve pain by lifting the skin away from the tissue beneath and enhancing blood and lymph flow to the injured area. Regular elastic bandages such as ACE bandages also provide support and reduce pain when wrapped around an injury, but unlike elastic therapeutic tape, they provide localized pressure to reduce swelling. In addition, they don’t stick to skin and usually restrict range of motion. Users report that elastic therapeutic tape works, but scientific evidence is contradictory. There just isn’t enough evidence to support the use of elastic therapeutic taping over other types of tape/bandage, and there is no scientific explanation for why it should work. So just be aware and use this tape at your discretion.
If you want improve your PFT and/or CFT score then try performing a dynamic warm up before the test. While there is still much debate around a pre-exercise warm-up, a recent review of the literature specific to military testing found that dynamic warm-up and dynamic stretching might improve your fitness test performance. Overall, dynamic warm-ups appear to improve pull-ups, push-ups, power, flexibility, and aerobic performance. In addition, prior to the dynamic warm-up, an aerobic warm-up such as about five to 10 minutes of light jogging, swimming, or cycling sees to have an overall beneficial effect on cardiovascular assessments such as sprinting and running. On the other hand, static stretching (the kind you stretch and hold) appears to have a negative effect on exercise performance in trained populations. If range of motion is needed, then static stretching might be the most beneficial type of warm-up. Most services no longer test for the sit-and-reach, but there are some commands that continue with this testing modality. While nothing will help you more than properly training for your fitness assessments, doing the little things on testing day may help you achieve peak performance.
The purpose of the 2011 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel (HRB) is to assess the health practices of active-duty service members. Substance abuse, mental and physical health, and lifestyle choices are important matters, especially when you need to be at your best for the demands of military life. Certain areas of this study directly affect human performance, and results (as reported in the Executive Summary) show that health behaviors vary between services.
Physical Activity/Body composition
Here are some figures from the Physical Activity/Body Composition portion:
- Overall, service members have lower rates of obesity (as defined by BMI) compared to the general public.
- More than one-third of active-duty service members age 20 and older were considered to be at a healthy weight, which exceeds the Healthy People goal as well as civilian population estimates.
- 75% of active-duty members practiced moderate to vigorous physical activity in the 30 days prior to the survey, with Army and Navy personnel having the highest rates.
- Almost half of service members do strength training three or more days a week.
Physical health and fitness are key components to optimal fitness. While these numbers are encouraging, there is no doubt that a larger portion of the military should be at a healthy weight and fit enough to fight. Make fitness and weight management your priority for performance.
- Only 40% of all active-duty personnel surveyed get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is an important factor in recovery. Poor sleep habits can take a physical and mental toll on your health, your relationships, and your performance.
Tobacco and alcohol
One area where the military could improve is in the use of tobacco products and alcohol:
- Almost one-quarter of service members reported smoking a cigarette in the 30 days prior to taking the survey, which is higher than the civilian population and the Healthy People objective.
- Smokeless tobacco use is also prevalent in the military with 12.8% of all service members using smokeless tobacco in the month leading up to the survey.
- Rates of binge drinking were higher in the military than in the civilian population and more prevalent in the Marine Corps than in any other branch.
Tobacco in any form is detrimental to your health. If you’re thinking about quitting smoking or would like to talk to someone about your alcohol use, there are lots of resources and professionals that can help you achieve your goal.
Stress and mental health
After more than a decade of ongoing war, troops have—and will continue to experience—significant mental stress as a result of their service. In general, 5-20% of service members reported high rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and/or other mental health concerns.
- The most common military-related sources of stress were being away from family and friends and changes in workload but included financial problems and family members’ health problems.
- Women reported experiencing personal sources of stress more often than men did.
- Those who drank heavily were more likely to report problems with money and relationships.
Drinking, smoking, overeating, and even attempted suicide are all negative coping factors when dealing with stress. The survey found that the most effective methods of coping were planning to solve problems and talking with friends or family members. Find out how to use productive and effective methods for coping with stress and mental health.
Nutrition and dietary supplements
Being fueled to fight is an important component for anyone in the military. Proper nutrition requires consuming healthy—and avoiding bad and potentially harmful—foods and beverages.
- According to the survey, active-duty personnel eat too many unhealthy foods such as snacks, sweets, and sugary drinks and not enough of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
- More than one-third of personnel reported daily dietary supplement use.
What you decide to put in your body now may affect your performance and your career later. For more information on nutrition for combat effectiveness, read Chapter 15 of the Warfighter Nutrition Guide. And make sure you know what you’re putting into your body. Dietary supplements are not subject to pre-market approval by the FDA, and there are many ingredients that may do more harm than help. You can learn more about dietary supplements at Operation Supplement Safety. And for more information about the Health Related Behavior Survey, visit TRICARE’s webpage.
Deployments, injuries, transitions—just a few of the many things that can interfere with your normal exercise routine. Too long a break and your cardiovascular—or aerobic—fitness may suffer. For optimal performance, however, getting your heart and lungs back in action is critical. If you’ve been away from your routine for a while, start slowly and gradually increase intensity and duration. Be patient and stick with a routine, even on days you don’t feel like it. Mix up your routine when you’re able with different types of aerobic exercise such as biking, running, swimming, and rowing. For help planning your comeback, check out HPRC’s Performance Strategies for Rebuilding Cardiovascular Fitness. If you’d like to learn more about aerobic conditioning specifically for the PRT/PFT, read part 1of our training series.
Are your high-school students gearing up to play a team sport? You might want to consider the pre-participation screening requirements and what’s on the horizon for future changes. The electrocardiogram—a test used to examine electrical impulses of the heart—has been used as a screening tool to identify cardiac problems. At the American Medical Society’s annual meeting, Dr. Francis O’Connor (Medical Director for the Consortium for Health and Military Performance, HPRC’s parent organization) recently presented an evaluation of recent recommendations from the European Society of Cardiology for physicians interpreting ECG test results of athletes. The accuracy of the interpretation is under scrutiny, as the results of ECGs can be tricky to interpret.
In the United States, athletes aren’t required to have an ECG screening prior to sports participation—but that might change in the future if it’s deemed that accurate readings of such screenings are reliable and might identify underlying heart abnormalities. For now, however, Dr. O’Connor noted, “identifying abnormal from normal is not as easy as it may seem.”
Looking to define your glutes, hips, and thighs? Want a total body workout to help you improve your score on the next PFT? Not close to your unit? You can access workouts complete with warm-up, cool-down, and videos of each exercise all online. There is a variety of routines, so depending on what you are looking to get out of a workout, there may be one for you. This is a handy resource for all Warfighters, but reservists and National Guardsmen often can’t work out with their unit, so these videos could provide a new twist to an individual workout. If you are far from your unit and are not able to participate in unit physical training, try these workouts! Sport-specific workouts are also available for the cyclists or swimmers in the service.
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
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!