Are fitness trackers motivating ?

Fitness trackers can be a good tool for helping you move more.

The Fitbit is sleek and novel, as are many of the new fitness trackers and apps, such as the Adidas or Human App, with gorgeous images, charts, and graphics. What’s not to like being called a hero for walking 30 minutes? Graphs and feedback in fitness trackers are fun and motivational. This year, activity trackers and wearable’s retained their number one ranking by the American College of Sports Medicine’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, and an estimated 485 million wearable devices will be in the market by 2018. But do they really make a difference in terms of long-term lifestyle change?

As with any new trend, going way back to Jane Fonda workout videos, Cooper Aerobics, Jim Fixx and running, or today’s P90X, the initial novelty wears off. Dr. Michelle Segar, Ph.D., a motivational scientist at the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research Center says that they are still just tools, not the holy grail of motivation. Yes, some people love graphs and charts, but it is your relationship with physical activity that counts in the long run. Is exercise a chore, or a gift?

Studies are mixed and ongoing in showing how effective tracking apps are to help people lose weight. Research shows that only some types of trackers can help. For instance, a study of inactive postmenopausal women found that a standard pedometer didn’t help increase their activity, while the Fitbit did. Another study published in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology showed participants increased their physical activity by 16 minutes per week. However, by 6 months, 40% of the participants stopped wearing their devices, and at the year’s end, only 10 % of them were still wearing them.

The Right Why

If only a small percentage of people wear trackers after a year, where is the missing motivational link? Human nature dictates that we all want to have positive experiences and ownership of our behavior. Is your underlying reason why you would want to include more exercise is because your doctor said so, or societal pressures to be thin? When I set up exercise programs for new clients, I always ask what is the specific number one goal that they want to achieve. Your reason for initiating a behavior change has to be compelling enough that you would want it in your life. Feel better. Have more energy. Be in a better mood. All these reasons have a domino effect and can positively influence your motivation, says Dr. Segar. In her book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness, Dr. Segar points out that physical activity that is enjoyable and makes people feel good right now is more motivating than a noble far-off goal such as “ better health “. When you focus on an immediate pleasure, like an evening walk around your neighborhood, moving more then becomes a gift. This is what Dr. Segar calls the right why.

When you enjoy something and do it willingly, you are highly motivated, autonomous. Within this theory, you’ve created a sense of ownership. Regarding exercising, you also develop a sense of self-care. The rewards are instant- perhaps your headache is gone, or feel better for doing some stretching. By taking these little steps, you reinforce the rewards of being more active. The brain begins to associate sweat with a surge of endorphins- those feel-good chemicals. Keep using your tracker. It’s a good partnership for staying motivated.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express July 25, 2017

http://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_5421f864-7312-11e7-afcb-dff831782410.html

 

 

Deep sleep for glowing health

    Starting as early as 30, improving the quality and quantity of sleep can eliminate future risk of memory loss and a wide range of mental and physical disorders. UC Berkeley researchers think that nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep.

    If you have trouble sleeping more now than when you were younger, don’t worry that this is how your nights will be from here out. Generally, you will be able to fall back asleep as fast as you used to with a strategy. Researchers find that the aging brain has trouble generating the kind of slow brain waves that promote deep restorative sleep, called deep non-rapid eye movement. This time-out for the brain helps sort the unimportant to important information from the hippocampus, to the prefrontal cortex, which consolidates information into long-term storage.

Here are some suggestions to how you can get the sleep you need:

Daytime routine

 Caffeine: Generally, caffeine lasts for five to six hours in the body. Try to not have caffeine later than mid-afternoon.

  Naps: Naps are great, but no later than mid-afternoon.

  Late-night eating: Try to avoid eating less than three hours before bedtime or overeating at dinner.

Evening routine

 Minimize screen time: Turn off your iPhone, iPad and TV to minimize screen time.

Bedroom: Have your bedroom quiet and dark, and a cool temperature. Core body temperature drops with the onset of sleep, but then increases because of a greater blood flow to the skin, so have comfortable bedding. Around 9 p.m., your body produces melatonin, which helps control your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is a natural hormone made by the pineal gland, located just above the middle of the brain. When the sun goes down, the pineal turn on signals in the brain that controls hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us sleepy or very awake. Its transmission is better promoted in a dark environment. Melatonin level stays elevated typically throughout the night, and drops before the light of a new day. When traveling, pack an eye mask and earplugs.

    Meditate in bed: Promote relaxation by relaxing as much as you can once you get into bed. It takes practice, but focus on slow, quiet breathing. A simple breathing practice can consist of only a few minutes to reconnect to mind, body and spirit. Keep focusing on your breath, and let any thoughts go. If you start to think about things, give yourself credit for noticing that your mind has wandered, and return to gentle breathing.


 Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express May 5, 2017

Breathe out to lose fat?

Breathe out to lose fat?When you stand tall and lift your chest, don’t you feel much better? You look better also, as your posture improves. Breathing capacity improves, as your diaphragm lifts to help expand your lungs. We need to breathe to live. Breathing sustains us and can also teach us about our current physical and psychological state. You get some great news, hold your breath in anticipation, or exhale out to relax more. Our wavelike breathing is our life force, but did you know that breathing out makes you lose fat?

    The rate and depth of breathing is influenced by changing levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen and hydrogen ions in our blood. When it comes to losing weight, why is breathing so important? And where does the fat go? Does it turn to energy or convert to muscle, as commonly thought? The process is all about biology, as fat mostly converts to carbon dioxide and leaves the body through breathing. Scientists, in a report published in the British Medical Journal, explain how our lungs unlock the carbon stored in fat cells. Replacing one hour of sitting with jogging, for example, raises the metabolic rate to seven times that of resting and removes an additional 39 grams of carbon stored in fat cells. Our lungs are responsible for weight loss, via our inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm, like a big parachute, contracts and relaxes nonstop, drives respiration and is the central breathing muscle.

Get good at breathing

  Running up a flight of stairs is one of the best ways to improve cardiovascular fitness. It’s a practical, quick and easy way to breathe hard, and gain some fitness in a busy day. But for the rest of the time, what if you became really good at breathing?

     It helps to understand just how much space the diaphragm needs to expand and fall with inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm sits beneath the lungs and is above the organs of the abdomen. It is the major muscle that drives respiration. Respiration consists of moving gases in and out of the lungs, and circulation is the transport of these gases to the tissues.

    Like a lopsided mushroom, the diaphragm is attached to the sternum and the lower six ribs, and to the first three lumbar vertebrae, via two tendon-like structures called crura. The crura, like strings, extend down to the psoas and lower back muscles. The joints of the lumbar spine and upper back also play a part in how well the diaphragm expands and contracts, and therefore the quality and depth of breathing.

    At the top of the diaphragm, a central tendon attaches in front of the pericardium, the covering of the heart. Equally, the muscles of the abdomen and the external and internal intercostal muscles assist in drawing the ribs in and out. Normal breathing is rhythmic, driven by neuronal networks within the brain. Breathing also depends on the elasticity of the lungs; they have to lift and fall back. Breathing needs a lot of space, from the heart riding up and down on the lungs, to the spine stretching to accommodate inhalation, as well as the stomach muscles and pelvic floor. So it comes as no surprise that posture, standing or sitting tall, with the chest lifted, stomach in, can help you breathe and move better. Worth a big exhale.

Parachute breathing exercise

  Imagine the diaphragm to be a parachute. As you breathe in, the center of the parachute drops downward, the sides billow and the cords loosen. As you breathe out, the canopy expands upward as the cords become taut and anchor down toward the pelvic floor. (Adapted from the Franklin Method )

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express March 10, 2017

A single rep can change you.

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We’ve watched the incredible skill and beauty of human physicality at the Rio Olympics. In all sports and in everything we do, it takes the coordinated activity of the nervous system, consisting of billions of nerve cells working together. Of course anything performed effortlessly takes years of dedication and practice. That only happens when we repeatedly stimulate and strengthen neurons with repeated use. Our circuits fire better together. But it’s not just in sports that repetition is crucial for skill development, but in all learning. In Beautiful Practice, Frank Forencich suggests that every moment of human life is a rep.

Turns out we are always etching grooves in our brains and nervous system, Forencich says.We are always practicing something, and that very practice helps us become more of that very thing he says.

So this month, whatever you find yourself doing, be it cognitive, spiritual or physical, keep doing your reps.Start with the small stuff, like cleaning up your desk, or walking with better posture. Maybe it’s running like the wind, like Bolt, grace and beauty in every step.

Every rep you do counts for a better , more alive you. Photo|| SQNSport.com

Every rep you do counts for a better, more alive you. Photo|| SQNSport.com

A single rep is where it all starts.

New Years Resolutions-Do they work?

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Model Katie Lee holds a kettle bell pondering her New years Resolution.

Model Katie Lee holds a kettle bell   and ponders her New Year’s resolutions. Health and Fitness Specialist Connie Aronson recommends that those who wish to keep their resolutions ” wait 10 minutes” or ” write themselves a letter.” Courtesy photo of Connie Aronson.

Every year, 45% of Americans make a New Year’s Resolution, an earnest promise to be better or try harder. Call them the agents of change, as theses people are ten times more likely to attain their goals.
Last year, according to a University of Scranton study, losing weight, getting organized, spending less and saving more were the top three resolutions. Maybe the bravery of setting new goals is just too overwhelming for the rest of us. After all, change is hard.

The good news is that you don’t need a new diet or self-help book, or just plain will power. Science shows that our bodies and brains need to get on board together. We need to understand why we aren’t already doing the particular things we need to do for change to occur.

We all struggle with temptation, addictions, distractions, excuses, and procrastination. Overeating chocolate mint brittle all week long doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Our struggles are universal experiences and part of the human condition. “Our human nature,” writes Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., in The Willpower Instinct, “includes both the self that wants instant gratification and the self with a higher purpose.”

Dr. McGonigal describes our struggles with temptation and procrastination from research published in 2007 involving some chimpanzees and humans. The humans were students from Harvard and the chimps from the prestigious Wolfgang Koehler Primate Research Center in Leipzig. The challenge was to delay the gratification of an immediate snack for more food. The temptation: Grapes for the chimps, and raisins, popcorn, M&M’s and Goldfish crackers for the humans.

First, they could all choose between 2 or 6 treats, which was easy, as both humans and chimps agreed that six was better than two. Then each competitor was given the choice to eat two treats immediately, or wait two minutes for six. When they had to wait for the treat, the patient chimps won out: an impressive 72% of the time, yet the students waited only 19% of the time.

Blame it on how humans rationalize. We have all sorts of mental tricks thanks to our prefrontal cortex’s ability to rationalize bad decisions and promise we’ll be better tomorrow.

“We’re rational until we aren’t,” Dr. McGonigal writes. The same goes for when the short-term reward is staring at us in the face: we want it now. Immediate gratification.

Try either of these following tips for success in reaching your goals in 2014:

Wait ten minutes

The brain’s reward system doesn’t care about the future.

Staring at M&M’s triggers the older, more primitive reward system of dopamine driven desire, when food for survival was the reward system’s original target. But temptation has a narrow window of opportunity.

As a waitress, management taught us that dessert sales were lost if you didn’t get to the table as soon as dinner plates were removed. When temptation is visible, the warm cobbler going to the next table for example, the prefrontal cortex is really overwhelmed. If you have to wait for your waiter, or distance yourself between you and the temptation, the balance of power goes back to the brain’s system of control.

The same is true for your own trigger: put them out of sight.

Write yourself a letter

“Imagine looking back at 2014, from a place of having achieved your most important goal for the year,” Dr. McGonigal writes in “Five Things You Can Do Instead of New Year’s Resolutions.” “In your letter, thank your present self for all you did to achieve your goals—and be specific. Or give yourself some compassionate advice from your wiser, 2015 self. Research shows that connecting to your future self in this way can help you make a difficult change and succeed at your goals.”

Estimating your maximum heart rate. Is it accurate?

 

Is 220-age a good formula for estimating your exercise heart rates? Photo || SQN

The formula used to estimate your maximum heart rate is almost as well-known as the alphabet is. The equation of 220 minus your age has been the go-to-formula to estimate the upper limit of what your cardiovascular system can handle during physical exercise.  You’ve seen target heart rate charts in any gym. It’s also routinely used to assess the response of the heart to exercise. But it is really reliable? The formula dates back to around 1938, and is quite different: 212-.77 ( age ). It turns out that neither hold scientific merit. The later was never meant to be an absolute guide to rule people’s training.

In the 70’s, Dr. William Haskell, Ph.D., and his mentor Dr. Samuel Fox were trying to determine how strenuously heart rate patients could exercise. In preparation for a medical meeting, they culled data from about 11 published studies from which people of all ages had been tested to find maximum heart rate. The subjects were non-specific: some were under 55, some smokers, and some with heart disease. Many years later, Haskell quipped that they pretty much drew a line through the points to extrapolate data. The formula became entrenched with doctors, a heart-rate monitor industry, and athletes looking to train specifically for endurance events.

One of the problems with the 220-age formula as a diagnostic tool for ischemic heart disease  is that it underestimates heart rate max in older adults. Too low averages mean that some cases of disease are missed, because the intensity of the exercise test is not sufficiently high enough for symptoms to manifest.

A more accurate formula is 208-(0.7 x age ). This was the best measure, according to  a 2011  paper published in the National Institutes for Health, and also noted in a  recent study published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. The same goes for a study published in March 2001 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, based on 19, 230 healthy people.

There is a newer formula: for women. Previous research has been on men. For the first time, we know what is normal for women. It turns out that we have a lower peak rate than men. The new formula is 206 minus 88 percent of age. Martha Gulati, M.D., assistant professor of both medicine and preventive medicine, and a cardiologist at Northwestern Medicine was the lead author of a study based on 5437 healthy women who participated in St. John Women Take Heart Project. Recently published in the journal Circulation, Gulati says, “Women are not small men. There is a gender difference in exercise capacity a woman can achieve. Different physiologic responses can occur. “ The results are important twofold. Men and women typically use their peak rate multiplied by 65 to 85 percent to determine  how hard they should be exercising to get results. At 50, the original formula gave a peak rate of 170 beats per minute for men and women. At 50, the new formula for a women is 162. “Now they can actually meet their age-defined rate, says Gulati. If it is abnormal, any red flags can be detected for increased risk of heart problems.

You need to know what your actual maximum heart rate is. The most accurate way of measuring heart rate max is via a cardiac stress test, monitored by an ECG, which requires you to push your body and heart to the very limit. It’s not really necessary for anyone simply wanting to exercise for health. Use the estimates as a guide. Our maximum heart rate goes down for everyone equally as we age, as older hearts simply can’t beat as fast, but that doesn’t mean we don’t keep trying.

http://ketchumkeystone.com/2013/11/18/maximum-heart-myths-for-men-women-an-update/

Slowing down aging with strength and grace

3 generations living well!

3 generations living well!

“It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”- Andy Rooney

Older adults need exercise training to improve their functional fitness that results in their independence, reduced falls, and a positive and profound impact on their mental and emotional health. Programs that involve strength, agility, dynamic balance, sensory enhancement and joint mobility ( think chest- up-confident stride ) all contribute to helping slow down the aging process.As we age, the size and quality of our muscles shrink at a loss of .5-1% per year. From the age of 60-80 years, the natural prevalence of muscle loss, or sarcopenia, jumps exponentially  from 15-32% for men , and 23- 36% for women. At 80, the values increase to about 51% -55% respectively for women and men.

Shrinking  muscles affect strength, power, endurance and speed.According to the US Center for Health Statistics, a person spends about 15% of their lifespan in an unhealthy state because of disability, injury or disease occurring in old age. The good news is that only one day a week of training will help you. A recent study of healthy women aged 60 years and older, showed that as little 1 day per week of aerobic activity and 1 day per week of resistance training may be just as good for improving strength,endurance, and quality of life as more frequent training. The study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, sited significant  improvement of daily activities such as standing, sitting climbing stairs and walking. The majority of studies suggest that older less conditioned people adhere to training 2-3 times a week, with 48 recovery hours, performing 3 sets of 10-12 exercises.

Functional fitness involves dynamic balance, and it is not necessarily your fate to be the 1 of 3 people over 65 that suffer a bad fall. In younger people balance is largely an automatic reflex. A variety of movements, with practice, can make your legs stronger, ankles,hips and spine more flexible, and challenge the nervous system. Optimal balance requires information from both our body in space and our external environment. It also involves using all 360 degrees of thigh muscle, as these are the muscles that need to be strong. Try the following mobility and sensory-enhancement exercises adapted from Christian Thompson, PhD, associate professor in the department of exercise and sport science at the University of San Francisco:

1. Ankle Circles .
Stand tall with feet hip- width apart. Hold onto a stable object with one or two fingers only. Lift one leg off the floor slightly, in front of the body. Do 15 slow, clockwise ankle circles, moving your foot to the greatest degree possible. Repeat counter clockwise; switch legs. ( www.ideafit.com/ST-older-adults.com)

2. Rotating Head.
Stand with feet hip width apart while holding a shortened TRX Suspension strap in a single- handle mode, palm down, with arm partially extended at chest height. Repeatedly turn head fully from right to left at a brisk pace while keeping eyes fixed on anchor point.Try for 60 seconds. To progress exercise, march while turning head.

http://ketchumkeystone.com/2013/09/30/slowing-down-aging-with-strength-and-grace/PPriscilla Woods @ Huntsman World Senior Games

Sleep Matters

Sleep Matters

Sleep. We barely give it thought, until we can’t, yet it is fundamental for health and productivity. We spend approximately one third of our lifetime asleep, crucial time  when the brain recharges, and goes to work consolidating the days learning into memory. Except for babies and children, our need for seven to eight hours of sleep each night doesn’t change throughout our lives, but our sleep patterns do, as anyone wide awake at three in the morning knows. An older adult who goes to bed earlier and wakes up earlier might nap more during the day . A teenagers’ biological clock keeps them awake later in the evenings and sleepier early mornings. Biological conditions unique to women: menstrual cycles, pregnancy, and menopause can wreck havoc on sleep. A recent National Sleep Foundation poll of adults revealed that women are more likely than men to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Forty million Americans  suffer from sleep disorders. Yet what happens during sleep is stunning.A new sleep study conducted by monitoring the brain waves of 6-10 year olds sleeping shows that the brain goes through a remarkable amount of reorganization during puberty that is necessary for complex thinking.

There is an even more compelling reason for a good night’s sleep for your well-being. People who sleep poorly and less than six hours have a 65% higher risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke compared to sound sleepers who are getting seven-eight hours. This didn’t apply to sound sleepers getting only six hours who wake up feeling fit and rested. The research from Wageningen University and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment is based on 20,000 people, with a ten and fifteen year follow-up. The Dutch study, published last week, showed that if you eat well, don’t smoke, drink moderately, and are physically active the risk of dying from heart disease is lowered by a staggering 83 %. (Adding only one of these positive lifestyle factors lowers the chance of developing heart disease by 57%.)

Until recently it was unclear why we eat more when we don’t get enough sleep. Just getting less sleep doesn’t mean you will gain weight, but a recent study done at the University of Colorado and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science  showed the participants sleeping up to five hours a night ate a smaller breakfast but binged on after-diner snacks. : “When people are sleep restricted, the findings show they eat during their biological nighttime when internal physiology is not designed to be taking in food”, says Kenneth Wright, director of CU Boulder Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory. Nighttime eating was well over the amount of calories than any other meal consumed. These findings add to the growing body of evidence that late night eating certainly can add unwanted weight.

Here are some tips from the National Sleep Foundation intended for “typical “ adults, but not necessarily for people with specific medical problems, when consulting with your doctor would be the best approach.

1.Go to bed and wake up at the same time including weekends. Our internal clock is regulated by a circadian rhythm that all living beings have-roughly  a 24-hour cycle. It rises and falls at different times of the day, depending on whether you are a “morning person” or “evening person” Getting enough sleep ensures the dips are less intense

2. Establish a relaxing nighttime ritual. A hot bath is a better idea than paying bills. Try to wind-down away from computers, or bright lights. The brightness stimulates neurons that help control the sleep-wake cycle that it is time to shine, rather than snooze.

3. Create an environment that is dark, quiet and cool. A quiet environment free of interruptions makes your bedroom reflective of the value you place on your sleep. If your partner snores, try earplugs. Eyeshades or a humidifier can help with light or dry temperatures.

4. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. If your mattress isn’t comfortable and supportive, it may be time for a new one, as the life expectancy is about 9-10 years. Also check for allergens that might affect you.

5. Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before bedtime. Eating and drinking too close to bedtime might make you feel uncomfortable.

6 . Exercise regularly. Vigorous exercise, or any at all, is better than no activity, but not at the expense of your sleep.

7. Avoid caffeine ( coffee, tea, chocolate ) and alcohol close to bedtime. It can keep you awake. Caffeine sensitivity can vary widely: it takes between four and seven hours for half of the stimulant to leave your body, making it harder for you to wind down. Although many people think of alcohol as a sedative, it  actually disrupts sleep and leads to a night of less restful sleep.

Recharging sounds like a great idea. Sweet dreams tonight.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine health & fitness specialist.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express April 26, 2013

 

 

Harnessing personal strength

The positive psychology movement believes that cultivating what is best in ourselves increases our sense of well-being. Our character strengths and their connection with life satisfaction and happiness is an important research field in positive psychology. A new large-scale study conducted by a team of psychologists from the University of Zurich proved that the largest impact was evident in training the strengths: curiosity, gratitude, optimism, humor and enthusiasm. It’s no surprise that these participants were more often in a good mood and more cheerful.

Rather than focusing on our quirks, the newer field of psychology focuses on how humans flourish. The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, home to the founder of the movement, Martin Seligman, calls it “the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.” We all have problems and stresses, but manifesting your strengths can help you increase your happiness, improve your relationships and achieve your life goals.

How happy?

Our temperament and personality traits are partially inborn. Research estimates that the genetic component of happiness is 50 percent inherited, with another 40 percent under our power to control. The final 10 percent depends on circumstances. However, sometimes we don’t even know what will make us happy—we’re too busy worrying about the future or the past. Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, in his book “Stumbling on Happiness,” says that how we feel in the moment colors how you imagine you will feel in the future. We can never really know how things will affect us, and the truth is that bad things, or good, don’t affect us as profoundly as we expect them to.

We have many character strengths, and you might not even realize that you use them naturally and easily, particularly when you set out to do something similar to the values you believe. It is one of the reasons you accomplish goals. According to a study presented at the British Psychological Society, only about one-third of us have a useful understanding of our strengths.

I recently had a look at my signature, middle and lower strengths, available at www.viacharacter.org, a 240-question survey. The questionnaire graphs 24 character strengths and ranks the top five. The classifications derived from six major virtues: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. For example, an appreciation of beauty, great art or being enthralled by music is a strength that helps to connect with something outside of yourself. It is likely you are empathic or strongly value being grateful, each of which contributes to healthier relationships. You might find spiritual benefits with this strength because you feel a sense of wonder or elevation. You are likely more accepting of the present moment, and this can lead to times of calm and peace.

According to the VIA Institute On Character, a nonprofit organization, “the classification reflects the world’s major religious writings, including the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as studies of major philosophies.”

As for me, I’m going to take an honest look at my lesser strengths, laugh more and get to work—happily.

Connie Aronson is an ACSM health and fitness specialist. Readers can visit her at www.conniearonson.com

A Changing Army: Ditching Sit-ups After 30 Years

Soldiers can forget about sit-ups. For the first time in 30 years, the US army has up-dated its fitness testing to better prepare soldiers for the demands of combat. Lt. General Mark Hertling, the general in charge of the Army’s initial training, collaborated with a 16 member team to revise the Army’s Physical Readiness and Combat tests. Going are the full sit-up test, and the 2 minute push-up and 2 mile run are being revised. Instead, the first test will expand from 3-5 events. The full sit-up goes for several physiological and safety reasons: they don’t do much to strengthen the core to translate to battle strength, and the full flex movement, the actual crunch part of the sit-up, puts an unhealthy strain on the back at its weakest point. The push-up  pace increases to assess upper body endurance, and the run gets shortened to 1.5 miles to assess the anaerobic capacity needed for high intensity bursts in the battlefield. “This is about training smarter, not training more”, Hertling said. Added are a no-rest standing long jump and 1 minute row to look at immediate fatigue and failure.

The out-dated PT test” does not adequately measure components of strength, endurance and mobility. The events have a low co-relation to the performance of warrior tasks and battle drills” said Hertling, who holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology.

Combat veterans trying out the new tests say they are tough. For the Army Combat Readiness test they are in full combat gear while carrying a rifle. They have to excel at sprints, move through hurdles and maneuver balance beams while holding heavy ammo tins, drag a 180 pound sled, and run  sprints.

Specific gender and age standards, from under age 30 to 60, for the test scores will align with the American College of Sports Medicine and Cooper Institute to establish standards and a thorough review before the tests are approved. “Soldiers like to be challenged. This will definitely challenge them”, Hertling said.

Training for the Rest of Us/ Bringing Boot Camp Home

Most of us want to look and feel good and the only battle we face is aging well. But we can take elements of the new testing to inspire us to work a little harder in our work-outs by going beyond where we thought we could, into the “somewhat hard” zone, even if it is only 30 seconds or a minute. High-intensity exercise toughens you up, writes Dr. John Ratey,author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science Of Exercise and The Brain.”It’s why we climb mountains and sign up for boot camp and Outward Bound trips.” Studies show that by adding a single spurt of sprinting for 30 seconds, on a bike for example, generates a 6 fold increase in human growth hormone, the ” fountain of youth” hormone. Remember, he writes, that by middle age these hormones dwindle to 1/10 of what they were during childhood. The sprints and agility tests that the Army will practice build fast-twitch muscles, which add power to movement. For us mere mortals, these new muscle fibers enhance our metabolism and help us become better at burning fats and carbohydrates for up to 4 hours after training, as well as lowering blood pressure.

Keep the push-ups.Push-ups are a great full body exercise strengthening many muscles at once: abs, front of your legs, arms and back. According to the American College of Sports Medicine fitness test, a 40-49 year old  female or male  performing more than 18 or19  push-ups, respectively, with the chin touching the floor and back straight, scores an “above average” rating. The tests are designed to help you develop a fitness program based on your results. The ACSM and Cooper Institute will also be involved in the Army’s establishment of test standards.

Connie Aronson is an American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Specialist and personal trainer located at the YMCA in Ketchum, Idaho