Keep in step to stay active and healthy

By Lisa Young, Health Educator, U.S. Army Public Health CommandAugust 3, 2015

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Get up, get out and get moving! This is what the World Health Organization recommends as part of their global strategy on physical health and activity. Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of hypertension, diabetes and depression, and it can improve your bone health and cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness. As the summer season ends, do not let the changes in weather and daylight keep you from staying active. Commit to maintaining your health through regular activity during all the seasons of the year by not limiting your idea of physical activity. Leisure time events, transportation, occupational tasks, household chores, play, games, sports, and planned exercise throughout your daily, family and community activities all count.

According to Army colonel David Bitterman, "Your work hours and family commitments may challenge you, but it is all about making a decision to take control of your own life, and sticking with it. It's about rounding up your family on the weekends and visiting Enchanted Rock State Park, or walking the Mission Reach Trail, or playing soccer with your kids instead of watching them play."

As a unit, a command, a Soldier or a family, the Performance Triad encourages us all to achieve 15,000 steps a day, use proper resistance training techniques and prevent injuries. Doing something convenient and that you enjoy, makes staying active easier. Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, muscle strengthening and endurance resistance training are some of the ways to be physically active. Staying physically active can:

• Increase energy

• Tone muscles, easing back pain

• Reduce stress, helping you relax and sleep better

• Manage body weight by burning more calories and controlling appetite

• Reduce risk of heart attack and type 2 diabetes

• Manage high blood pressure and diabetes

• Slow osteoporosis bone loss

Be sure to consult a healthcare provider so that there is no health problem or physical reason that would limit your exercise. The following points are important to keep safe and ensure your activity is effective:

• If you are walking or running, choose safe places with several different routes for variety.

• Schedule time in your daily routine that will be the most consistent.

• Find a partner or group of people to exercise with you.

• Wear athletic shoes that fit well, will cushion your feet and absorb shock.

• Wear clothes that will keep you dry and comfortable.

• Wear a hat - a warm knit cap in the winter and a baseball cap in the summer.

• Begin with a warm-up, for five to seven minutes. A focused and tailored warm-up can increase performance and decrease the risk of injury. Gradually increase your activity to a moderate pace for the main routine. Cool down by ending with slower activity for five minutes.

• Stretch the major muscle groups (back, chest, hips and legs) afterwards. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds.

• Exercise most days of the week, but plan for at least three to five. To prevent injury, do not increase your intensity and your distance or time in the same week. If you exercise less frequently, progress more slowly.

• Drink water before, during and after you participate in an activity.

• Stay aware of your surroundings.

• Wear bright colors or reflective tape after dark so that motorists can see you.

A successful physical activity program that lasts throughout the year takes commitment. As motivation, purchase an activity tracker to count how many steps you take, the distance you go and how long it takes. An activity tracker might help you go an extra lap around the neighborhood to get to 15,000 steps. They are able to detect body motion, count footsteps, display calories burned, distance walked and time elapsed. Joining a fitness group can also be fun, and a way to make new friends.

Things will interrupt your plans to stay physically active. Don't let a few days off sabotage your dedication to stay fit and maintain good health. Keep from getting discouraged by setting realistic goals. Include simple lifestyle changes that will increase your daily activity, like taking the stairs, parking at the end of the parking lot or walking the dog twice a day. Even though staying active can be difficult with changes in the weather or job schedules, keep your goals in mind.

Related Links:

Army Medicine

David Bitterman's story

Performance Triad

World Health Organization