A 12-Point Plan to Increase Your Overall Fitness

army

Army

If you’re looking to boost your mind, body, and spirit in 2023—and enhance your athletic performance while you’re at it—take a look at the Army’s playbook. The Army’s Holistic Health and Fitness (H2F) system, which officially rolled out in 2020, has elevated soldiers’ full-picture wellness by following the system’s five pillars of readiness—physical, mental, spiritual, nutritional, and sleep. And the benefits are notable. But these principles aren’t exactly classified information. They can be applied to the lives of everyday civilians just as easily as soldiers conducting military ops. The following 12 tips, which come directly from Army H2F experts and soldiers, can help improve your holistic wellness journey through the new year and beyond.

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1

Write Down Your Guiding Principles

You don’t have to be religious to practice spirituality. “Everyone has a spiritual core deep within them,” says Maj. Dom Grotti, a chaplain in the Army and H2F spiritual expert. “Whether that’s someone who has faith or not, there’s always a set of beliefs, human values, or principles that shapes who they are and brings their life meaning.” Get out a pen and paper (or use your smartphone) and write down your personal values as clearly as possible. The act of writing them out and seeing the words in front of you will help provide purpose to your daily activities.

2

Seek Balance at Every Meal

A nutrition plan that fuels a healthy, high-performance lifestyle requires consistency and balance. “When you eat, do you have a protein source, some kind of non-starchy vegetable for a carbohydrate, and healthy fats?” asks H2F nutrition expert Capt. Savannah Gideon. Make it a point to get each of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) at every meal as well as one or two glasses of water for adequate hydration.

3

Choose Exercises That Mimic Real Life

Focus on movements that have high carryover to everyday life and any other activities you participate in—for example, free-weight (barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells) and bodyweight variations of squats, deadlifts, push-ups, pull-ups, and overhead presses, and strength and flexibility practices like yoga, can help you function more effectively in numerous areas. “The functional movements we do in H2F have a lot of carryover to what we do as soldiers,” says Staff Sgt. Andrea Marie Ramos. “We’re constantly moving and picking up heavy things, so exercises like deadlifts help keep our bodies strong and injury-free.” These exercises are beneficial for sports including soccer, tennis, and basketball, and can even improve everyday life, like carrying groceries into the house or playing with your kids.

4

Warm Up with Dynamic Movements

Stretching is an effective way to start a workout, but recent research has indicated that dynamic, or movement-based, stretching prior to a training session is more effective for performance and injury prevention than static stretching, where you hold muscles in a lengthened position for an extended period of time. In one study conducted at the United States Military Academy, cadets who did a 10-minute dynamic stretching routine beforehand, compared to static stretching, saw more positive performance results. Appropriate dynamic movements to do in your warmup include leg swings, arm circles, dynamic toe touches, and high knees.

5

Get Outside and Connect with Nature

The most immediate thing you can do to enhance your wellness is getting outdoors. “It’s important to get connected to nature,” Maj. Grotti says. “Taking a walk and getting connected spiritually to who you are will provide resilience and a strength that can overcome life’s most difficult challenges.” Make it a point to spend at least some time outdoors daily walking, hiking, running, doing a strength workout, or even just sitting on your patio at home.

Keeping stress levels in check is critical to achieving optimal health. Army soldiers are trained to manage stress by regulating their breathing. “We call it arousal control, and it’s essentially just taking counted deep breaths to slow the heart rate and increase focus on the task at hand,” says Capt. Brian Richley, H2F sleep and mental readiness expert. Practice this technique: Take a few minutes to practice deep breathing, inhaling for a count of five- to 10 and exhaling for the same count.

7

View Food in a Positive Light

Another important aspect of healthy nutrition, says Capt. Gideon, is enjoyment. “You should like the foods you’re eating,” she says. “Food shouldn’t be judged as good or bad. What you eat depends on what goals you’re working toward—body composition, energy levels, performance, recovery, and so on. Food should be fun. It should work for us, not against us.” Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect diet. If you splurge on a meal, don’t obsess over it. Accept it for what it was—delicious!—and move on.

8

Take Notice of Your Surroundings

“As an infantryman, one of the cognitive exercises they put us through involves entering and clearing a room,” says Staff Sgt. Joshua Ham. “Tension is high, stress is high, and everyone’s heart rate is elevated. They put different shapes, colors, and numbers up in the room, and we’re trained to pinpoint those small details to slow down our hearts and minds and reduce the stress.” To apply this practice in your own life, the next time you feel tension at work or home, step back and focus on a few minor details in the room, whether it be a piece of artwork on the wall or the color of someone’s clothes.

9

Down-Regulate Before Bedtime

“If you’re not sleeping well, neither your muscles nor your brain is going to recover, and you’re definitely not going to make gains in the gym,” Capt. Richley says. “We actively work with soldiers to get them to down-regulate to achieve better sleep.” Down-regulation in this context involves reducing brain activity, which you can achieve by staying off all electronic devices one or two hours before bedtime and doing relaxation techniques like meditation during this time.

10

Schedule a Late Evening Tea Time

Aside from using electronic devices, consuming alcohol, caffeine, and/or a large meal in the final hours before bedtime can negatively affect sleep quality. If you’re consistently doing one or more of these things, establish a new nightly routine by avoiding all of the above after a certain time (say, 7:00 pm) in favor of a cup of caffeine-free hot tea. Chamomile, magnolia, and nighttime varieties are all choices that can help you feel relaxed.

11

Do Something That Scares You

Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is a critical aspect of H2F’s physical and mental preparation. Soldiers accomplish this through daily trainings and operations, but many of them also do other “scary” activities on their own. Staff Sgt. Ham, for example, runs ultramarathons to build mental resilience. “If you don’t control your mind, emotions, and behaviors, you’re not going to be able to attack anything life throws at you in the best possible way,” he says. To leave your comfort zone, take on a new activity outside of your wheelhouse—like a 5K obstacle race, a half-marathon, or an intimidating group class, such as martial arts or public speaking.

12

Create a Winning Environment

Achieving an advanced level of wellness is largely dependent on your environment and the culture within it—and H2F is proof of this. “One of the rewarding aspects of the program is that we’re starting to see a change in culture across the Army,” says H2F Program Director Jessica Johns. “When we first started, there was some resistance because it was new. But as people started to buy in, they saw the mental, physical, and spiritual impact of the system.” This concept can be applied in the civilian world as well. If your current environment, including where and with whom you spend time, isn’t conducive to achieving your health and fitness goals, create a new culture for yourself. For example, join a new gym that has an inspiring community feel, or organize social meet-ups with people who share your goals and values.

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