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Physical Fitness Training Year-Round Boosts Resilience

Soldiers performing exercise

U.S. Army photo by Spc. Luther Boothe Jr./Released

Military physical fitness involves your ability to physically handle all aspects of a demanding mission, while remaining healthy and uninjured.1 This type of training not only improves your performance on the job, it improves psychological wellness.1 Year-round exercise can help you build and maintain your psychological health and resilience, and some studies have shown that it may improve your mood and attitude.2 This article will focus on:

  • The psychological benefits of physical activity
  • The importance of comprehensive fitness training
  • Ways to reduce your risk of injury

Psychological Benefits of Physical Fitness

Exercise has been shown to help your body handle stress better, and physically active people may have lower rates of anxiety and depression than generally inactive people.3 Some research points to changes in brain chemistry as the reason. Other research focuses on changes in body temperature and cardiorespiratory function during exercise.2
Physical activity can:1

  • Improve your mood
  • Help keep your thinking, learning and judgment skills sharp as you age
  • Reduce symptoms or risk of depression and protect psychological health
  • Help you get better quality of sleep so you feel awake and refreshed throughout the day

Physical activity helps your body and overall health in many other ways, such as:5

  • Controlling your weight
  • Reducing your risk of heart disease
  • Reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reducing your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthening your bones, muscles and joints
  • Increasing your chances of living longer

Physical Fitness Tips

The latest military fitness guidance emphasizes the need to focus on “mission and job task-oriented fitness.”1 This involves having a well-rounded approach to your fitness routine that reflects the various types of tasks that you might experience. Well-rounded training should address the following health and performance-related components of physical fitness: 1,2
 
Health-related:
Endurance - the body’s ability to sustain activity ranging from high intensity activity of short duration (anaerobic) and lower activity of longer duration (aerobic) without fatigue
Flexibility - the range of motion of a joint or series of joints
Strength - the ability of the muscle to exert force

Performance-related:
Mobility - the ability to coordinate movement readily with power, speed, balance and agility
Power - the ability or rate at which one can perform work

Many fitness tests focus on strength and endurance, but mission tasks often require mobility or other aspects of fitness that may not get emphasized in current testing.2 Keep in mind these tips as part of your physical fitness efforts:5,6,7,8

  • Exercise regularly. The health benefits noted above are gained through a mix of aerobic (e.g., brisk walking) and muscle-strengthening (e.g. resistance training) activities at a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes, three to five times a week.  
  • Start slowly. When you become much more active than usual, the risk of experiencing a cardiac event and getting injured does go up. If you’re just getting into high-intensity aerobic exercises like sprinting or spinning, it's important to pace yourself and not overdo it. Also, if you have a chronic health condition like diabetes or heart disease, talk with your doctor about any limits to physical activities and a fitness program that complements your abilities.
  • Add variety. With consistent training the body will adapt to a particular exercise program, which is why it is important to vary the routine. This will also help you stay motivated. Consider cross-training, adding new activities and exercises, or just doing something physical for fun.
  • Always fuel up to optimize your health and performance. What you eat and drink is just as important as when and how much you eat and drink. Eating more calories than you burn will increase body weight, but consuming too few calories will likely cause you to feel tired and perform poorly. Staying hydrated relies on drinking enough water/fluids before, during and after exercising. While experts generally recommend drinking about 64 ounces (8 cups) of water throughout the day, drink about 16 ounces (2 cups) of water 2 hours before a workout. Replenish your fluids while you are engaged in any physical activity -- about 1/2 to 1 cup of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure to drink enough fluids so that you don’t feel thirsty; clear urine is a good sign that you’re fully rehydrated.

Taking Steps to Prevent Injuries

Injuries can occur during fitness training, but there are steps you can take to lower your risk of getting hurt. By following a few simple guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, injuries such as muscle strains, tendonitis and overuse injuries can be reduced. 4

  • Listen to Your Body. Overtraining can occur from a training schedule that is suddenly increased to high volume and/or intensity, lasts for sustained periods and lacks sufficient recovery. Listen to the warning signs that your body gives you. If your body is tired or too sore from the previous workout, take a day off, cross-train or work out at a much lower intensity.
  • Warm Up. Every workout should begin with a warm up, which is necessary to prepare the body for exercise by increasing heart rate and blood flow to working muscles.
  • Cool Down. Every workout should end with a cool down. Time spent performing five to 10 minutes of low-intensity cardiovascular activity followed by stretching immediately after the workout will decrease muscle soreness and aid in recovery, both helping to prepare the body for the next workout.
  • Stretch. Once the muscles are warm, they become more elastic and are ready to be stretched. Flexibility prepares the muscles, tendons and joints for work by allowing them to move freely through a full active range of motion. The more prepared the body is, the less likely it is to get injured.

What Line Leaders Can Do

It is important for line leaders to encourage smart physical fitness. Be sure to:

  • Encourage ongoing and well-rounded exercise
  • Give unit members opportunities to be active during down time, especially in ways that keep them socially connected
  • Remind warriors about the steps they can take to help prevent training injuries, especially when it comes to hydration

A physically fit warrior is a healthier, more resilient, and more productive warrior.5 This, in turn, supports the effectiveness and productivity of the whole force.

Additional Resources

Sources

1 MAJ Tonja C. Roy and others. “Physical Fitness” [PDF 5.39MB] Total Force Fitness for the 21st Century, Supplement to Military Medicine - Volume 175. Published August 2010.
2 Total Fitness for the 21st Century: Conference Report [PDF 550KB], Institute for Alternative Futures, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Published December 30, 2009.
3 "Exercise Fuels the Brain's Stress Buffers," American Psychological Association. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
4 "Basic Injury Prevention Concepts," American College of Sports Medicine. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
5 "Physical Activity and Health," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
6 "Running for Fitness," Human Performance Resource Center, Force Health Protection and Readiness Program, Department of Defense. Last accessed April 7, 2016. 
7 "Nutrition and Athletic Performance," MedLine Plus, National Institutes of Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
8 "Water in Diet," MedLine Plus, National Institutes of Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.

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