CAMP COURTNEY, Okinawa --
As Marines, physical fitness is something that is taught to us from day one. Most Marines have a basic understanding of exercise, but fewer Marines take the time to think about how it benefits them beyond physical fitness.
We sat down with fitness and wellness experts, Philip Reuer and Zoey Powell to learn more about how exercise benefits Marines’ overall physical and mental health and combat readiness. Reuer serves as Marine Corps Community Services’ High-Intensity Tactical Training (HITT) coordinator for Camp Courtney, and Powell is a wellness educator.
Powell and Reuer explained that the key to physical fitness is having a good routine. Any program that is consistent will have positive health changes. Whether working out twice a week or every day, exercise is a cumulative process.
Routine and strenuous exercise slowly break down our bodies. Good nutrition and adequate sleep help the body recover and adapt for the stress of the next working, building strength.
“Now if you only do that once and don’t do it again, your body adapts to doing nothing and will adapt to no stress and therefore regress,” said Reuer. “The more consistent training, the more cumulative effects you will have.”
Something routine is better than nothing. Regular exercise, even just once a week, creates more apparent effects to the body than no exercise at all.
“You gotta start somewhere,” said Powell. “So get consistent with that and then you will be able to say ‘okay I can do once a week, let’s do twice a week.”’
Learning how to work out properly, making it enjoyable for you, and incorporating your nutrition creates a routine that is safe and fun, Reuer said. Understanding the HITT program’s seven pillars to developing a workout training routine – squat, hinge, upper body, push/pull, rotation, plank, and lunge – is a comprehensive approach to ensure a Marine is well balanced.
In addition, he said, a workout routine should include a dynamic warm up, cardio, cool down, stretching, proper rest and recovery. By performing these steps you will be less likely to injure yourself during an exercise routine or later in possible combat situations.
A person is more likely to stick with a routine if they have fun. A common way of aiding this is to find a workout partner.
“We can preach about the specifics of exercise and strength and conditioning for hours,” said Powell. “But if you hate it, there is little chance you will actually stick to it long term.”
Proper nutrition provides the body with the tools it needs to support optimal performance and recovery.
“Our body keeps energy stores, or glycogen, in our muscles that need to be replenished after exercise,” said Reuer. “If they aren’t, your performance may be hindered the next time you work out.”
To do this you must eat regularly and include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, healthy fats and plenty of water.
Proper education and implementation of exercise and nutrition improves physical and mental health. Your mood will be better, you’ll start to have more energy, and you’ll feel stronger and more confident, said Powell.
“Research has shown that exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which can have positive cognitive effects,” said Reuer.
The two biggest cognitive effects are improvement to the quality of sleep and immune system.
Routine exercise increases the amount on time you spend in the rapid eye-movement, or REM, cycle during sleep, which leads to stronger mental functions, like thinking clearer and retaining more information. It also heightens your immune systems’ defense levels, as well as releasing endorphins, the “feel good” hormone, increasing your stress tolerance.
“Stick to the basics like regular exercise, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, tobacco cessation, only drinking alcohol in moderation, maintain healthy relationships and manage stress in a way that works for you,” said Powell.
By making those positive lifestyle changes you will automatically begin to see your physical and mental health improve.
Reuer said, “A prepared Marine is one that is not hurt and is less likely to get hurt on a deployment/combat environment.”