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Listen to your heart

With special equipment, you can manage your emotional stress as well as the timing and intensity of your physical training.

As your heart beats, the amount of time between these beats varies. In other words, your heart rate is constantly changing—speeding up and slowing down. Though it might seem counterintuitive, more of this “heart rate variability” (HRV) is better for both your physical health and how you cope with stress. And you can learn to listen and use it.

Some heart-rate monitors allow you to monitor your HRV and the effects of different training routines on it. Or you can check out biofeedback to help you master stress-management techniques such as paced breathing by giving you immediate feedback about your heart rate. Either way, HRV is a tool that can help you find the optimal timing for recovery or lighter training within your long-term workout regimen. In fact, HRV can even show when you’re at greatest risk for injury.

Pushing yourself is an important part of performance optimization, but you also need to regulate your emotional and physical stress. Biofeedback can help with your emotions, and heart-rate monitors that measure HRV can help optimize your physical training over months and years. Visit “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best” to learn more about how you can use HRV.

Check out Performance Triad’s new materials

Looking for information to help optimize your sleep, activity, and nutrition? Check out the new materials posted by the Army Public Health Command.

Two new performance optimization documents are now available on the U.S. Army Public Health Command website. The Performance Triad Guide contains useful tools and strategies for optimizing your sleep, activity, and nutrition.

The Sleep section includes ten effective sleep habits, strategies for addressing sleep countermeasures (caffeine and supplements, for example), and considerations for a sleep management plan, including relaxation techniques.

Activity has tips for meeting your exercise goals, how to achieve the functional fitness required to succeed on the PRT, as well as information on injury prevention that includes safe running strategies and shoe selection.

Nutrition provides detailed information on nutrition for performance, daily carbohydrate and protein calculators, hydration, nutrient timing for peak performance, and dietary supplements.

The Performance Triad Challenge, designed for squad and unit leaders, provides information organized into six areas: the professional soldier athlete, physical dominance, cognitive dominance, emotional dominance, sustained operations, and social, family, and spiritual information. The beginning of each module features a leader’s guide for identifying target areas for improvement.

National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic

Calling injured veterans to sign up for the National Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, CA, September 13–18, 2015.

Spring is just around the corner, so it’s time to start thinking about sports and outdoor recreation. In keeping with the Mission ReDefined campaign (a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Paralympics), VA encourages eligible veterans (those injured within the last six years) to apply for the 2015 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.

The purpose of the Clinic program is “early intervention for Veterans battling back from injury, not only strengthening their bodies but improving overall well-being and self-worth.”

Spend a week in San Diego learning about adaptive sport and recreational activities such as sailing, surfing, track and field events, kayaking, and cycling (hand and tandem). This is a national event open to Veterans from all across the country with combat injuries ranging from TBI and polytrauma to spinal cord injuries and loss of limbs.

The clinic will be held in San Diego, CA, from Sept 13–18. 2015. The deadline to sign up is May 1, 2015; visit the Registration tab at the Clinic link above for details and forms.

Set the fitness example for your kids

Parents can help their children be physically active in a variety of ways. Learn more.

Parents are one of the most important factors in their children’s fitness. You can set the example. Children of active parents are more than twice as likely to be active than those with inactive parents. You also can help your children be active by driving them—or better yet, walking or biking with them—to and from activities, being active with them at home, cheering or supervising their play/activity, and getting the right equipment for their activities. It’s important to expose kids to different activities. Once they find something they like, they’ll stick with it. Above all, make it fun!

Keep your eye on the fitness prize!

Get excited about the next milestone or the final reward. Interim goals will make your end goal feel closer and fuel your motivation.

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. 

Merry Fitmas! Keep fit during the holidays

Don’t let the holidays ruin your fitness routine.

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.

  • 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.

For more exercise resources and ideas, visit our Physical Fitness and Family Fitness sections. 

Fitmas Challenge [JPG]

What’s in the way of your optimal performance?

Learning mental skills can help you meet greater demands, which sets you up to feel more prepared. It can even set the stage for optimal mindset and peak performance!

That mental state dubbed “the zone” by the media is what scientists call “flow.” It happens when you perform at your best easily because you’re performing automatically, without overthinking, focusing only on what’s happening right now.

To help yourself perform better more consistently and possibly even experience flow, consider these typical blocks and how to overcome them:

  • Personal demands: It’s hard to focus on the task at hand when there’s personal stuff on your brain. Do what you can in advance, and shift to the present moment with self-talk such as “focus.”
  • Mission complexity and ambiguity: If it feels as if there are too many “moving parts” in a task, try to gain clarity up front. Ask questions and use mental imagery to see in your mind’s eye what needs to be done.
  • Interpersonal conflict: Everyone replays arguments mentally. Resolve them at the front end or put them on hold during a mission. Routines can help you bring your attention to the here and now.
  • Paralysis by analysis: Thinking too hard is another way that people sometimes get stuck. Trust your training and let your best performances unfold.
  • Limited control or resources: Deciding what is in your control and what isn’t can help you focus on what’s most important in the present moment.
  • Isolation: We all need other people. Be active in seeking support.
  • Intense workload: If anxiety about what’s in front of you is getting in the way, try embracing excitement about whatever you’re facing.
  • Boredom or underutilization: When you know you need more challenge, ask for it.

Big demands require big resources. Overcome mental blocks to performance by continuing to develop your mental resources. 

Exercising when sick – a smart move?

Find out when it’s safe to exercise with the sniffles.

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.

Injury prevention: How to avoid “text neck”

Don’t let your phone be a pain in the neck.

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.

Read this and then break a sweat

Before you curse the puddle of sweat at your feet after a workout or when you’re out in the heat, think about this: How much you sweat may be an indication of how fit you are.

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!

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