Physical training, smoking, and injury during deployment: a comparison of men and women in the US Army

Morgan K Anderson, Tyson Grier, Michelle Canham-Chervak, Timothy T Bushman, Bruce H Jones
U.S. Army Medical Department Journal 2015, : 42-8

PURPOSE: To investigate changes in physical training (PT), fitness, and injury during deployment and identify differences between men and women.

METHODS: Data were collected on male and female US Army Soldiers through self-reported surveys completed before and after deployment to Afghanistan. Changes in physical training activities, physical fitness, injury incidence, BMI, and smoking status were analyzed. Descriptive statistics were used to compare before deployment and deployment results and differences between men and women.

RESULTS: Surveys were completed by 727 men and 43 women. The percentage of Soldiers engaging in unit PT running of 5 miles or more per week decreased by almost half for men and women. The percentage of Soldiers doing personal PT running of 5 miles or more per week and engaged in resistance training 3 or more days per week more than doubled for men and women during deployment. Cardiorespiratory endurance for women improved by 50 seconds (P=.06) and for men declined by 29 seconds (P<.01), while muscular endurance increased by 0.6 repetitions (P<.01) during deployment. Injury rates for men decreased, on average, 36.2 to 19.0 injuries per 1,000 Soldiers per month (P=.01). Injury rates for women decreased on average from 42.6 to 14.0 injuries per 1,000 Soldiers per month (P=.02). During deployment, BMI did not change for men or women and smoking increased 19% for men (P<.01), but did not increase for women.

CONCLUSION: Comparisons of physical training activities and health behavior among men and women before and during deployment suggests that increased resistance training could be recommended for women and smoking cessation for men. Given the potentially important role of personal PT in maintaining physical fitness in the deployment environment, future work should support provision of the necessary environment and equipment for Soldiers to perform personal PT effectively and safely on their own. Further, the physical training gaps between men and women should be addressed, with suggestions regarding where improvements can be made, especially for women interested in seeking combat positions with high physical demands.

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