Academic Stress Increases Risk of Athletic Injuries

When you’re feeling particularly stressed out, you may want to skip your high-intensity workout. Researchers from the University of Missouri, Columbia, found that college football players are three times more likely to injure themselves during academic exam periods than during training camp. And the effects of stress on injury occurrences are more pronounced with starting players. “It doesn’t matter what the stressors are,” said Bryan Mann, PhD, assistant professor of physical therapy and assistant director of strength and conditioning for Mizzou Athletics, in a video interview conducted by the University of Missouri news bureau. “They affect the body in the same way.” Mann thinks that while the study was done with football players, these results could apply to any student athlete.

The findings emerged from an analysis of weekly injury reports for 101 student athletes on a Division 1 college football team during a 20-week season. Sixty different athletes had 86 injury restrictions. Injuries were three times more likely to occur during midterm and final examination periods than during periods of low academic stress.

In light of this discovery, Mann recommends that coaches reduce high-intensity practices during periods of increased stress during the academic calendar. “This was mind-blowing to me . . . We can back off, and we can reduce injuries. These are injuries that don’t need to happen, and we can do something about it.”

The study is available in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2015; doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001055).

To learn more and to view the complete interview with Brian Mann, go to

Significant Growth in Yoga Therapy Research

In the past 10 years, published, peer-reviewed research articles about yoga therapy clinical trials have tripled. Study growth seems to parallel yoga’s popularity. To gain a comprehensive bibliometric overview, leading investigators from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and Harvard Medical School in Boston analyzed 486 peer-reviewed, clinical trials. These were conducted in 29 countries, involved more than 28,000 participants and were published over the 46-year period from 1967 to 2013. A bibliometric analysis examines the number and types of studies without evaluating individual study validity.

The top four disorders addressed by yoga interventions were mental health, heart disease, respiratory disease and musculoskeletal disorders. Study authors noted that “an overview of systematic reviews for any medical condition identified unanimous positive evidence for depression and cardiovascular risk reduction and mixed results for other conditions.”

Yoga for mental health made up the majority of published studies. Asthma was the primary respiratory condition researched, and findings indicated that yoga could be suggested for asthma patients in conjunction with usual care. Musculoskeletal disorders made up only 2% of the studies. Of these, 38% pertained to arthritis-related conditions, and 22% addressed chronic lower-back pain.

Study authors wrote, “The field of yoga and yoga therapy research has emerged as a compelling option within integrative medicine in the United States,” both for its therapeutic benefits and its cost-effectiveness.” Authors further reported that while yoga research has surged, much more good-quality, evidence-based research is needed to influence healthcare policy to include clinical practice recommendations for yoga therapy.

The study was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2015; doi: 10.1089/acm.2015.0057).

How to Create an Exercise Habit?

If you’ve suggested to clients that they schedule their exercise, like a daily practice of brushing their teeth after a meal, you’re on the right track. Alison Philips, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa, recommends focusing on an external “instigative” cue, such as a morning alarm or a specific time of day like the end of work, as a trigger for working out. This is based on a study Philips conducted to explore the importance of different habit components in predicting exercise frequency.

“An exercise ‘habit’ is by definition automatic, or nondeliberative,” said Philips to IDEA Fitness Journal. “You just do it when triggered. You don’t have to drum up the motivation to follow through with your intentions. Developing that level of habit is not at all easy.”

An instigation habit is based on cues that prompt people to do a particular activity; in other words, it’s simply part of your routine activities, like brushing your teeth after eating a meal. “Regardless of the type of exercise you’re going to do on a particular day, if you have an instigation habit, you’ll start exercising without having to think a lot about it or consider the pros and cons,” said Philips, who added that research suggests it may take a month or more of repeated behavior before a cue reliably and automatically triggers a behavior. By contrast, an execution habit refers to the activity that you do, for example, going for a walk or a run or taking an indoor cycling class.

To conduct the study, researchers enrolled 123 healthy adults and collected self-reported data on exercise instigation and exercise habit strength. They then tracked how often each subject exercised over a 1-month period. Data analysis showed that those with strong instigation habits were more likely to exercise consistently. “[On the other hand,] individuals with strong ‘execution habits,’ or those who performed specific exercise actions habitually, were no more or less frequent in their exercising than individuals with weak execution habits—[that is,] those who thought deliberatively about what exercise actions they wanted to engage in as they were exercising,” said Phillips.

Philips noted that more research is needed to determine what cues work best. “This [study] is preliminary,” said Philips. “It is not able to tell us which cues work best or how best to condition those cues to form instigation habits.”

The study is available in Health Psychology (2015; doi: 10.1037/hea0000249).

Shirley Archer-Eichenberger, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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