Tired of running on a treadmill? Switch it up!

When most people think of “cardio” they probably think of running. But for people who don’t like to run or cannot run, there’s some good news. Cardiovascular exercise includes any activity that strengthens your heart and improves the function of your cardiovascular system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardiovascular exercise each week in order to help prevent cardiovascular disease. When you break it down, that amounts to 30 minutes per day for 5 days per week. Unless you really love to run, you’ll probably want to switch up exercises that you do in order to reach 150 minutes of cardio each week.

Additionally, cardio is not the only type of exercise that health experts recommend in order to receive optimal health benefits.  The CDC also recommends that adults do muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

What’s considered moderate to vigorous?

·         Increased heart rate

·         Increased breathing rate

·         Increased sweating

·         Muscle fatigue


These are all examples of what exercising at a moderate to vigorous level usually feels like. Some people also use perceived exertion and/or target heart rate ranges to determine if they are exercising at a moderate to vigorous level to receive the associated health benefits. 


Alternatives to running

At the Gym

If you’re looking for some non-running alternatives while you’re at the gym, you might consider trying some of the other machines, such as the elliptical, stair stepper, and rowing machine. There are many ways you can switch it up, such as changing the intensity level or doing timed intervals.  



If you’re looking for something outside, at home, or a little less traditional, you might enjoy hiking or biking. Ask a friend to join you or turn it into a family event. Many gyms and groups also do exercise in the park. Zumba, a Latin inspired dance fitness class, is in part so popular because of the social aspect of it. When you exercise with friends, it feels less like exercise and more like hanging out. Just make sure that you are focused on exercising and not talking the whole time.


No matter which exercise you choose, getting your blood pumping at a moderate to vigorous level for at least 150 minutes per week and also performing strength training exercises at least 2 days per week, can have a lasting, positive impact on your health. Adding some variety to your routine will not only decrease boredom and, therefore, increase the likelihood of you sticking with it, it will also diversify the specific muscle groups that you are working with. Trying different cardio routines can be a fun and exploratory experience, and the more fun you have, the more likely you will keep doing it. 


Preparing for the APFT


Preparing for the APFT is both a mental and physical effort. If you want to reach optimal performance, it is important to take a whole-body approach, including engaging in cardiovascular exercise and strength training; eating a healthy diet; and getting adequate and quality sleep. 



When beginning your exercise program it is important to pace yourself and slowly increase your activity. This will help you avoid injury, achieve optimal benefits, and reach Army standards. Your standardized physical training program will always include the following elements: a warm-up, the main physical training, and a cool-down. This is the safest and most effective way to train and condition your heart for exercises and progression.


Warm- up

The warm-up should last approximately 15 minutes, and occur just before the activities of your physical training session. Performing consistent dynamic (moving) warm-ups can ultimately help improve performance on the APFT.  Dynamic warm-ups like walking prior to jogging and jogging prior to running, prepares the body for more vigorous conditioning activities and can decrease the risk of injury.  Soldiers should also refer to the Army Physical Readiness Training Manual FM 7-22 for the preparation drill that is a dynamic warm-up consisting of ten exercises that appropriately prepare Soldiers for physical readiness activities. 


Cardiorespiratory and Strength Training

Cardiorespiratory endurance refers to the body’s ability to utilize oxygen in the working muscles. The standard Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) involves running, so activities like Ability Group Runs (AGR), speed running, foot marching, and conditioning drills per the FM 7-22, will help you prepare for this event.  Cycling and swimming are also good choices when working on cardiorespiratory fitness.  Strength training at least twice per week is important to prepare for the push-up and sit-up portion of the test.  If your APFT goal is to improve the number of repetitions of push-ups and sit-ups, it is recommended that you perform a variety of upper body and core exercises.

 Ø  Upper Body Exercises:  There are three major muscles groups involved in a push-up: Pectorals, Triceps, and Deltoids.  Maximize your workouts by varying muscles worked and super-setting exercises so that you can combine rest time for one muscle group with work time for another muscle group.  

Ø  Core Exercises: A true core strength training program not only uses your abdominals, but also activates all the muscles stabilizing the spine, hips and pelvis.  Refer back to Army HEALTH’s fitness tool for specific exercises and instructional videos for these specific areas.  Practice will help you increase your APFT scores, but remember that rest is also important.  Incorporating upper body and core exercises into your weekly workout routine will help you reach your goals. 


Cool down

The cool down should last approximately 10-15 minutes and should occur immediately after the activities of your standardized physical training session. You should begin the cool down by walking until your heart rate returns to less than 100 beats per minute and heavy sweating stops.  



In addition to exercise, proper nutrition plays a major role in attaining and maintaining total fitness. Good dietary habits on the days leading up to, and including the day of your APFT can greatly enhance your ability to perform at your maximum potential. According to the Department of the Army Fitness Training manual, "Because foods eaten one to three days before an activity provide part of the fuel for that activity, it is important to eat foods every day that are rich in complex carbohydrates." 


The night before the test, you can benefit from drinking water and eating fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. On the day of your test, it's a good idea to eat just one light meal before the test begins. Having a light meal will help keep your energy up without feeling sluggish. Here are some ideas for staying energized and hydrated:

  • Half whole-grain bagel with light cream cheese and a cheese stick or slice of turkey breast.
  •  A piece of whole-grain toast with peanut butter.
  •  Apples, bananas or carrots with hummus or peanut butter.
  • Keep water with you at all times.
  • Several hours before your scheduled cardiovascular event, drink at least 16 ounces of water.
  • Avoid rehydrating with sports drinks (if exercising for < 1 hour).
  • Drink 20 ounces of fluid for every pound lost through sweating.

*Remember: It is possible to drink too much water. Listen to your body.   


Sleep is a vital component for peak physical performance, yet it is often overlooked or not prioritized. In addition to increasing energy and endurance, getting enough sleep also aids in muscle recovery, stress reduction, and increased accuracy and reaction time. Research has shown that sleep so strongly affects physical performance, such that your body declines in physical performance by 25% for every 24 hours that your body is deprived of sleep. It is important to get enough sleep all the time, not just the day before your APFT.  Here are some tips for getting more sleep:

  •  Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours prior to bedtime (including soft drinks, tea, and chocolate)
  •  Avoid eating 2-3 hours prior to bedtime
  • Keep the bedroom cool
  • Block noise and light
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as taking a hot shower. 

The Bottom Line

Train the way you test. This is the best way to ensure that you will do well on your next APFT. Focusing on a whole body approach that includes diet, exercise, and sleep will also aid in preparation. Finally, here are some tips for the day of the test. Good luck! 

  • The night before the test, drink water and eat fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Runners also prefer the carbohydrate-boosting energy of pasta the night before a race. 
  • On the day of the test, eat a small snack that consists of a complex carbohydrate and a protein (i.e. whole grain toast with peanut butter).
  • Drink at least 16 oz. of water prior to the test. During the breaks between the tests, drink small amounts of water slowly to replenish fluids lost during sweating.
  • Wear proper running shoes with your PT uniform (i.e. no minimalist “barefoot” shoes).  Additionally, choose a running shoe that is suitable for your particular type of foot .
  • Always warm up and cool down. The warm-up should include a lighter version of your exercise activity, such as jogging before running. The cool down process allows your heart rate and breathing to return to their resting rates. 


References: www.active.com, www.miltary.com, http://www.militaryonesource.mil/, https://myarmyhealth.org/, and FM 7-22.   

Overweight & Obesity Stigma: Shaming Helps No One


Fat shaming is a form of public humiliation aimed at evoking a change in the name of “health”. It occurs every day to people of all ages, races, sizes, educational and socio-economic backgrounds. It happens at home, school, and work. At its most detrimental level, it’s precipitated by those whom we trust the most: our family members and health care providers. Often, these shameful thoughts and generalizations are internalized and eventually we become our own bullies.

The stigma associated with being overweight and obese often manifests into discrimination-which can be just as damaging as other forms of discrimination. The consequences bear devastating mental and physical health outcomes. In the past decade, the prevalence of weight discrimination in the United States has increased by 66% and is still climbing. This issue is something we can no longer avoid as a society.

The Impact of the Media


Fat shaming can be seen just about everywhere you look. Take for example a recent Scooby-Doo movie that “cursed” Daphne with being overweight, emphasizing to children that being overweight is something to be ashamed of…a “curse”.

The “fitspo” aka “fitness inspiration” community has no doubt reinforced this message. With mantras like “if you just run 5 miles a day or do this specific workout…you will look like this” [insert picture of extremely lean and toned, shirtless guy/girl in spandex],


the focus is often skewed toward appearance rather than health. What the fitspo community fails to mention is that the model in the picture doesn’t do that particular workout at all. Everyone’s body is different and will respond to a workout in its own unique way.

The idea that reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is a matter of trying hard enough is apparent in almost any infomercial and/or print media for an exercise routine, diet, or supplement. Advertisements emphasize the idea that weight loss and being healthy is a matter of calories in and out, using the right products, or engaging in the right exercise routine (which you too can partake in for the right price) and that people must be lazy if they are overweight. The diet and fitness industry capitalize off the belief that being overweight is a character flaw, evoking a demand for their product by those in need of gaining back lost virtue.

A 2008 study revealed the tendency of the media to selectively report on scientific article findings and to frame weight and health related news stories in a way that dramatizes the content and fosters individual blame. However, recent research has shown that this is not a good strategy to evoke positive public health change. For example, studies have shown that fat shaming actually has the potential to lead individuals already struggling with weight management to gain more weight in some cases, thus, the original intention of the shaming backfires. As it should- bullying, shaming and discrimination overall, have never been shown to be beneficial to anyone.


So much of what we see in the news and in product advertisements conveys that body weight is a direct indicator of health. Although we agree that weight is an important factor in assessing health, it’s much more complicated than that and additional factors must be considered for a complete picture. Recent research indicates thin people too, can be “fat”. This is a direct message to not judge a book by its cover. Research has more than established at this point that thin does not necessarily equal healthy, and overweight does not necessarily equal unhealthy. What we see on the surface is only a small representation of what going on below the surface.



Missing the Mark


Take for example, the 2012 Strong4Life ad campaign which is part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Pediatric Hospital’s five-year, $25 million initiative designed to curb childhood obesity in Georgia. The campaign features pictures of seemingly overweight children with a “warning” that states “it’s hard to be a little girl if you’re not” and “fat prevention begins at home…And the buffet line”. Their newest video demonstrates how a fat child, enabled by “bad” parenting, is led to have a heart attack through a series of lifelong bad habits.

It’s hard to understand why people say and do the things they do in relation to overweight people. A concerned parent of an obese child may think they are helping their child by saying something like “a minute of the lips, forever on the hips”. But in reality, these types of comments are embarrassing and will not encourage the child to make healthier choices. Instead, a more likely outcome is they’ll learn to eat alone and in shame during their next meal.

By the same token, health care providers are often uncomfortable approaching the subject and may not realize that simply telling someone to eat less and exercise more will not always help. In a recent interview, Dr. Rebecca Puhl, Deputy Director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale, spoke about the issue of weight related bias in the health care system. “Women with obesity report that doctors are one of the most common sources of weight bias in their lives – 69% of women reported these experiences with doctors. Negative weight related attitudes and stereotypes toward patients with obesity have been documented among physicians, nurses, medical students, dietitians, psychologists, and even health professionals who specialize in obesity. Stereotypes include assumptions that patients with obesity are non-compliant with treatment, lazy, and lack willpower and motivation to improve their health.” said Puhl. This brings to light the complexity of the issue. Oftentimes health care providers may think they are helping a patient lose weight by “encouraging” them, but in all actuality, that’s not what happens. Simply put: you can’t shame people into being “healthier”.

Adverse effects

People that are exposed to more weight based discrimination are more likely to experience shame, gain weight, stop seeking medical treatment, and avoid exercise. Depression, emotional eating, and low self-esteem also play a role. Research has shown that overweight people who reported discrimination based on weight were more than twice as likely to be obese four years later than people who didn't experience such discrimination. As research has more than established, making someone feel bad about themselves does not encourage healthy behavior change.

The Need for a Shift

It’s time for a shift in the conversation- from body size, numbers, and shaming to a positive focus on individual health behavior change. As a community, we need to encourage and enable everyone to make healthier lifestyle choices. Shame does not have a place in health promotion and is not an effective motivator of change.


Image Sources: Daphne; Glacier; Strong4life;

Your Brain on Sleep


Sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and the Army Performance Triad. Signs of sleep deficiency such as lack of energy and concentration are usually pretty apparent. However, research has demonstrated the negative effects of sleep loss extend much further than feeling a little tired. Sleep plays a crucial role in both mental and physical performance. Without the proper amount of sleep, the body is prone to injury, fatigue, stress, muscle weakness, and poor focus. In fact, the body declines in physical performance by 25% every 24 hours that it is deprived of sleep. Conversely, a fully rested body can think more clearly, make better decisions, and perform at a physically optimal level.

Sleep and Mental Performance


During sleep, the brain consolidates long-term memory into storage, removing the short-term memory stores to allow for the absorption of more information. Being well-rested also improves working memory.


A lack of sleep can increase irritability and mood swings. A general absence of emotion can also result from not getting enough sleep. During sleep, the body releases hormones. Premature waking can disrupt the delivery of these hormones, causing moodiness.

Focus and Concentration

Having a full night of rest increases the brain’s ability to concentrate. Sleep also improves alertness and reaction times.


During sleep, the brain prioritizes information. Sleep is also important in the formation of new ideas and the ability to multitask.

Logical Reasoning

Without sleep, it is harder for the brain to perform higher level cognitive functions, such as mathematical concepts. A well-rested brain is able to reason and think more clearly.

Sleep and Physical Performance

Energy and endurance

Sleep increases energy stores in the body used to fuel physical activity and exercise.  Without enough sleep, insulin resistance and a decrease in glucose tolerance occurs. This means the body cannot readily utilize fuel for physical activity as efficiently as when it gets a full night’s sleep.

Muscle recovery

During sleep, the body is able to recover and repair damaged muscles and bones.


Sleep reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Without enough sleep, cortisol levels increase, which can lead to slowed healing, increased risk of injury, and poor memory.

Accuracy and reaction time

Sleep can also improve brain function, which helps improve accuracy and reaction time related to focus and athletic performance.

Bottom Line

Sleep loss impairs both mental and physical performance. After 24 hours without sleep, mental and motor skills are impaired at the same level as someone with a blood-alcohol content of 0.10-legally drunk in all 50 states. For those who are struggling with sleep or simply not prioritizing it to the top of their list, start by setting some simple goals tonight!

Try to keep these sleep practices on a regular basis:*

· Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool.

· Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual (such as a hot bath).

· Avoid naps, especially in the afternoon.

· Avoid caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening.

· Wind down. Spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading.


*Resource: The National Sleep Foundation

Physical Activity vs. Physical Fitness

As a Soldier, it is important to be physically active as well as physically fit to be prepared for combat. The terms physical activity and physical fitness are often used interchangeably. However, there is a difference in these terms.

The Differences


Physical activity involves day-to-day actions that keep the body moving and blood flowing, whereas physical fitness consists of workouts that elevate heart rate and perspiration.  Both physical activity and physical fitness are equally important to a healthy lifestyle. 

For those looking to increase their daily physical activity amount, it may be helpful to insert small bouts of activity spread throughout the entire day. 

For example:

  • Take the stairs as often as possible
  • Park as far away from the door as possible
  • Go for a family walk after dinner (don’t forget the dog!)
  • If sedentary at work, take small “walking-breaks” at least once per hour         


Whether for personal fitness goals or in preparation for the APFT, service members are often searching for new ways to increase their physical fitness.  When creating a new workout, it is important to remember the FITT formula. The factors in this formula can determine the success of a fitness plan. Consider a few recommended guidelines regarding the FITT formula:

Frequency: 3-5 times/week

Intensity: target heart rate range

Time: 20-30 minutes

Type: varied  



Bottom Line: Although both are essential for a healthy lifestyle, there is a difference between physical activity and physical fitness.