Filed under: Fitness
The saying goes that “less is more,” but when it comes to exercise intensity, that might not be the case. We know that some exercise is better than no exercise, but is more-intense exercise better than moderate-intensity exercise? How hard should you push? And what are the benefits? What are the risks? With the growing popularity of high-intensity workouts, it’s important to consider both the risks and the benefits.
The role of intensity during exercise has been demonstrated. For example, the risk of death in older adults is lower for those who walk at a faster pace than for those who walk at a more leisurely pace. Short-duration high-intensity interval exercise has similar, if not better, benefits compared to long-duration low-intensity exercise. These benefits include reduced risk for chronic disease, increased oxygen uptake, and overall improved exercise performance. Since the number one barrier to exercise individuals report is not having enough time to exercise, this is important: With increased intensity, workouts can be shorter in duration, and you can still reap the benefits. You also can feel “afterburn” following high-intensity exercise, which means your body is burning calories even after you’ve completed your workout.
The good news is that exercise intensity is relative, so you can benefit from exercise at a level that is you consider high intensity, whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned athlete. Shoot for your target heart rate as a good start to gauge intensity. Not every workout needs to top out the intensity scale. In fact, doing too much too often can lead to overtraining and injury. Remember to listen to your body and incorporate rest or light days into your workout regimen.
It’s tax season, and finances are on your mind. Financial planning is important and it might help you stay on track with your fitness goals. What motivates you to exercise? Maybe it’s your New Year’s resolution, or you’re training for an upcoming event. The key is finding what works for you, so that you maintain a regular exercise routine.
For many, money can be a strong motivator for maintaining their exercise behaviors. You pay for gym memberships, fitness classes, and fancy exercise equipment—but is spending money a good way to stay motivated?
In general, people often are motivated by immediate gratification (versus being rewarded later) and by losses, rather than gains. Some research suggests that the idea of losing money is a strong motivator for maintaining an exercise program. So, if you pay for a gym membership and never use it, that sense of monetary loss can motivate you to actually go to the gym. Still, the value you place on that membership is important too. You might not feel a significant sense of loss over a $10 monthly gym membership, whereas the threat of losing $200 a month for a different membership might matter more. In one study, money was deducted from some participants’ prepaid accounts each time a fitness goal (walking 7000 steps/day) wasn’t met. Those who “lost” money experienced a greater increase in activity compared to those who were paid each day they met the same goal. For some people, losses feel worse than gains feel good.
You also might consider pre-paid or unlimited-visit gym memberships, where you pay a certain amount up front. And the more often you go, you get more bang for your buck as each class becomes cheaper.
Sometimes you need to “trick yourself” into good behaviors. Are you motivated by losses or gains? Find a trick that works for your wallet and you might find yourself in better shape for it!
Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise each day improves fitness and reduces your risk of chronic disease. But what you do for the other 23½ hours also can affect your health. Even though you’re getting the minimum amount of exercise, you’re at risk of “sitting disease,” if the rest of your day is spent doing sedentary activities such as sitting or sleeping. You’re still at risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses too. But there are ways to move more throughout your day.
The sedentary lifestyle
For many, a typical day is spent sitting or sedentary—whether you’re at your desk, in the car, at the dinner table, on the couch, or in bed. All this sedentary time puts you at greater risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer. The simple act of standing up has even more physiological benefits when compared to sitting. The “active couch potato” phenomenon shows that even people who are relatively fit and meet the minimum requirements for daily exercise still exhibit risk factors for metabolic syndrome and other chronic diseases as sitting time increases.
Sure, you might take the dog out for its morning walk, or maybe you did PT before work. Still, the more time you spend sitting the rest of the day, the greater your risk of disease. According to this infographic from the American Institute for Cancer Research, even those who engage in moderate amounts of exercise and physical activity are still at risk of cancer if 12 or more hours in the rest of their day is spent seated or lying down.
Time is often a major reason that people say they don’t get enough exercise or physical activity during their day. It’s true that work can get busy, but it might just take a little creativity to turn it into a productive and physically active workday. It’s still unclear exactly how much exercise offsets or reduces your risk from sitting, and more research is needed in this area. In the meanwhile, try these tips to help reduce your sedentary time:
- Bike or walk to work, if possible. If you don’t live close enough to bike or walk the entire commute, try walking for at least part of your travel time. For example, park further from your building. Or choose a higher level in the parking garage.
- Take walking breaks. Walk to a coworker’s office instead of calling or emailing. Suggest a walking meeting next time you and coworkers schedule a get-together. You could walk to a cafeteria, park, or nearby bench before eating lunch. Experts suggest that even 2 minutes of walking per hour can be beneficial, so set your timer and go.
- Take the stairs. The more you climb, the easier it will get. Walk up and down escalators too instead of riding. Avoid elevators as much as possible.
- Take small standing breaks. When your phone rings, you could stand up to answer it and remain standing during the call. When someone visits your workspace, stand during your conversation. Or consider switching to a standing desk in your office.
- Use an activity tracker. Wearable technology can help remind you to stay active and keep moving.
Doing what you can to increase the amount of time you spend standing, exercising, and being physically active will improve your chances of a longer and healthier life.
It can be extra challenging to get outdoors and exercise in the winter. But don’t let cold temperatures freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to help you “weather” the winter weather!
- Dress in layers. Choose synthetic materials such as polyester or polypropylene that stay close to the skin. Avoid cotton since it soaks up sweat! You always can remove layers as you get warmer.
- Warm up. Take a few minutes and do a dynamic warm up before you head outdoors. This will help warm up your muscles and body, so it might feel like less of a shock when you step outside.
- Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather. Chemical heat warmers also can help keep your hands and feet warm.
- Check the forecast. Wind chill, snow, and rain can make your body more vulnerable to the outside temperatures. Plan an indoor workout when the wind chill is extreme (negative numbers) or the temperature drops below 0°F. You’re at risk of hypothermia and frostbite if you’re not properly prepared.
- Be visible. With fewer hours of sunlight in the winter months, you might be walking or running when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Wear reflective gear or a headlamp to stay visible to oncoming traffic.
- Apply sunblock. You can still get sunburned in the winter, so don’t forget the sunscreen!
- Stay hydrated. When exercising in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to indicate hydration since you usually don’t feel as thirsty in cold temperatures. You need to stay just as hydrated in cold weather as you do when it’s hot outside.
- Ask your doctor. Certain symptoms might worsen in cold weather if you have asthma, heart issues, or Raynaud’s disease (when specific body parts feel numb due to cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.
Whatever you want to accomplish in 2017, those New Year’s resolutions are a good thing. Setting goals can help you achieve optimal performance. Use the tips below (based on recommendations from the American Psychological Association) to help you actually achieve those goals.
- One at a time. Trying to do everything at once can lead to burnout. Tackle one issue at a time instead: Break your goals into pieces you can build on.
- Start small. Pace yourself to go the distance. You might be eager to get started, but begin with the more manageable goals and build up to the really challenging ones.
- Share. Talk about your goals and progress with your family and friends. They can be your biggest supporters. It might help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish, and it even might interest them enough to join you.
- Ask your buddies. Getting help is a sign of strength. It can help reduce the stress of trying to reach your goals. If you’re struggling with one aspect of a goal, seek out advice and support. You also can get help from HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills, with evidence-based information that can help you progress towards your goals.
- Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection is an ever-moving—if not impossible—target, so don’t waste your time chasing it. Performance optimization is about being your best, not perfect. If you make mistakes, recover and get back on track—don’t abandon your goals. Learn from your mistakes instead, and you might find it brings your goals even closer.
For more information on how to become your best, check out HPRC’s Ten Rules of Engagement for performance enhancement.
The first step to losing weight and gaining better health is using self-monitoring techniques to track your calories. Armed with this information, you can reinforce what’s working well. Some evidence suggests that recording food and beverage intake leads to healthy, sustainable weight loss. Weighing yourself daily might help too.
What’s the secret to weight-loss success? Choose a self-monitoring technique that works for you: Try to do these actions frequently—at least 3 times per week—and turn them into healthy habits. Read more...
Do you make a New Year’s resolution every year to “get in shape” and then approach year’s end dissatisfied? The problem might be that fitness is a long-term goal that’s hard to keep in focus. Goals that seem more in reach often feel more desirable (for example, money, food, or a finish line) than ones that seem further away. For example, when you’re at the end of a race and can see the finish line in front of you, you’ll probably see the finish line as closer than it really is. However, runners who are less fit and less motivated estimate the distance to a finish line as farther than do runners who are fit and highly motivated. Whether or not the goal is actually closer, believing that it is triggers excitement and fuels effort towards achieving the goal.
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. And even if you want to get in shape, your poor fitness can affect whether you believe you can achieve your fitness goals.
This doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape. Keep your eye on the prize! The “prize” could be anything. It could literally be the finish line; the next milestone on your route, such as the building at the end of the block; or 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's coming, keeping the self-talk positive, and setting SMART goals along the way. This will help keep your motivation high and the prize within reach. Exercisers who focus on an end goal and ignore the distractions around them perceive their goal as being closer, perform better, and—perhaps most important—don’t consider the exercise as difficult. So, if you see your goals as being closer to you in your mind, you’ll have something motivating to look forward to.
Before you gobble up your Thanksgiving dinner, consider starting your day off with a calorie burn! Pretty much wherever you are, you can find a road race—Turkey Trot, Drumstick Dash, or Gobble Gait—and most are family friendly.
If you’re prone to “holiday stress,” particularly if you’re hosting, it can be a great way to relieve some tension and mentally prepare for the day ahead. If you’re not up for the race crowds, or there isn’t a race nearby, there are lots of other options for getting in some exercise. Find a quiet road for a quick run, go for a bike ride, or enjoy some fall foliage on a hike. Whatever floats your gravy boat.
Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you to all service members and their families too.
Compression garments come in a variety of sleeves, socks, shorts, and full-body suits. The amount of pressure, or compression, they provide depends on the type and size of the garment. Compression garments help push blood toward your heart and prevent it from “pooling” or collecting in the compressed areas. Compression sleeves also are used in clinical settings for those with lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.
But can they increase your performance and decrease your recovery times? Compression garments have been shown to help blood flow to working muscles during exercise, but that necessarily doesn’t translate to better performance. Most studies look at compression socks during running, and most evidence suggests no difference in athletes’ performance levels during runs when compared to those not wearing compression socks. In addition, there’s no decrease in recovery time or blood-lactate levels.
Still, those wearing compression socks report “feeling better” and “less tiredness” in their legs during their runs. They also feel less sore following the exercise bout. And while there might not be an actual benefit of wearing compression gear, if you feel better wearing it—either during or after exercise—then keep doing what works!
Depression can impact your mood and performance, preventing you from doing your best at work, on a mission, and at home. A total fitness approach—including physical activity, proper nutrition, positive relationships with others, and mind-body skills—to overcoming depression can reduce feelings of persistent sadness or hopelessness and lack of motivation or energy, so you can perform well on your mission.
It’s estimated that about 12% of deployed military personnel and 13% of those previously deployed meet the criteria for depression. And many more service members struggle with bouts of misery or restlessness. A total force fitness approach can help. Read more...