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Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.

Try the African Heritage Diet

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition
The African Heritage Diet pyramid is an eating guide based on the healthy food traditions of Americans and Caribbean people with African roots. Learn more.

Enjoy a flavorful diet, feel healthier, boost your performance, and lower health risks with the “African Heritage Diet.” The ancestors of African Americans brought wonderful food traditions to America, but many of these traditions have been lost over time. And health has suffered as ways of eating have changed.

African Americans struggle with high rates of obesity, putting them at a disproportionally higher risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. The good news is you can improve your health and performance by including the African Heritage Diet principles in your healthy eating plan—whether or not you’re African American. Keep reading to learn more about this diet. Read more...

Financial incentives and fitness goals

Filed under: Finances, Fitness, Goals
Money is a strong motivator, but can it help you exercise more?

It’s tax season, and finances are on your mind. Financial planning is important and it might help you stay on track with your fitness goals. What motivates you to exercise? Maybe it’s your New Year’s resolution, or you’re training for an upcoming event. The key is finding what works for you, so that you maintain a regular exercise routine.

For many, money can be a strong motivator for maintaining their exercise behaviors. You pay for gym memberships, fitness classes, and fancy exercise equipment—but is spending money a good way to stay motivated?

In general, people often are motivated by immediate gratification (versus being rewarded later) and by losses, rather than gains. Some research suggests that the idea of losing money is a strong motivator for maintaining an exercise program. So, if you pay for a gym membership and never use it, that sense of monetary loss can motivate you to actually go to the gym. Still, the value you place on that membership is important too. You might not feel a significant sense of loss over a $10 monthly gym membership, whereas the threat of losing $200 a month for a different membership might matter more. In one study, money was deducted from some participants’ prepaid accounts each time a fitness goal (walking 7000 steps/day) wasn’t met. Those who “lost” money experienced a greater increase in activity compared to those who were paid each day they met the same goal. For some people, losses feel worse than gains feel good.

You also might consider pre-paid or unlimited-visit gym memberships, where you pay a certain amount up front. And the more often you go, you get more bang for your buck as each class becomes cheaper.

Sometimes you need to “trick yourself” into good behaviors. Are you motivated by losses or gains? Find a trick that works for your wallet and you might find yourself in better shape for it!

Help your child face dental fear

What can parents do to help kids who are afraid of going to the dentist?

It’s important for kids to establish good dental health habits early on, but their fears of visiting the dentist sometimes can get in the way. Still, you can help manage kids’ dental anxieties by talking through worries and explaining upcoming dental procedures.

Kids who don’t go to the dentist are more likely to experience pain, tooth loss, and cavities. The good news is regular dental visits can prevent these and other oral health issues.

Many parents struggle to figure out how to help their anxious little ones feel more comfortable. When kids think their oral health is bad, they also tend to get more anxious about visiting the dentist. Still, there are things you can do to lessen your child’s worry when a dental appointment approaches.

“Coach” your kids’ emotions to help them manage fears before the visit. Validate your child’s worries by saying something such as, “It seems you’re very concerned about what it will be like to go to the dentist tomorrow.” Let your child talk about his or her feelings. And ask her or him why it might be important to visit the dentist. Reassure your child if she or he has good oral health and suggest that the appointment is to make sure nothing goes wrong in the future.

Kids can benefit from age-appropriate, realistic explanations about what to expect on their next visit. Discuss what might help him or her feel calmer and more comfortable. Let your child offer ideas first. If needed, encourage him or her to bring a favorite stuffed toy or suggest doing a fun activity afterwards, so you both have something to look forward to. Distractions, such as watching cartoons during his or her appointment, also can help relieve your child’s anxieties. And gently remind your child how the dentist can help teeth and smiles stay strong and healthy.

At home, make your kids’ oral health a priority by getting into a routine of brushing and flossing from a young age too. Doing so can help prevent tooth decay and illnesses caused by bacteria buildup in the mouth.

Create healthy team environments

Learn how creating healthy team environments can foster performance, well-being, and morale.

Healthy environments create high-performing teams, which makes a big difference in how productive and fulfilled Warfighters feel on a daily basis. Winning teams don’t happen by chance. As leaders, parents, and partners, there are a few ways you can work toward building strong, cohesive, and effective teams at home or in uniform.

One of the most basic building blocks of good teams is a sense of trust and dependability among its members. High-quality connections with others at work and home can be cultivated by creating forums for open, honest, and assertive communication (about both the positive and negative). Encourage transparency and frequent communication about issues that impact daily operations. And remember that communication styles vary from person to person.

Although teams and families operate in units, find ways to identify and support individual strengths and attributes. Individual traits can help build or break down a team. Be proactive about getting to know what each person brings to the table and provide opportunities for them to utilize their strengths.

Create uniform standards of respect among teammates and family members to help boost healthy team environments too. When you identify negative dynamics within your group, openly address them and hold everyone accountable to the same expectations. Be on the lookout for group aggression and hazing. Although some people believe that these behaviors can lead to increased group identification, they actually can tear down morale and cohesion.

The teams that work within our Armed Forces are constantly in a state of flux. Crafting healthy team environments can create stability and security amid an ever-changing military landscape.

Can massage relieve my back pain?

When performed by a licensed massage therapist, massages can help reduce your back pain. Learn more.

If you’re struggling with back pain, therapeutic massage can bring some relief. Some evidence suggests that it can help reduce pain in your lower back and neck too.

There are many different massage techniques, such as Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, and sports massage. During a massage, a trained therapist applies pressure and other forms of manipulation (such as kneading, circular movements, or tapping) onto muscle and soft tissue. The application of pressure on different layers of skin helps stimulate blood circulation, which could alleviate pain. Massages can increase calmness and decrease anxiety, which also can relieve your pain.

Massages can be particularly effective at alleviating lower back pain, especially when combined with a strengthening and stretching program. Deep-tissue massages can relieve some post-workout muscle pain too. A soft-tissue massage around your shoulders and upper back can increase range of motion and decrease pain as well.

Massages are generally safe, but make sure you seek treatment from a trained professional. Still, a massage isn’t without risk. In rare instances, too much pressure can fracture bones or incorrectly manipulate your spine. A massage on broken, open, or irritated skin can be painful. If you’re pregnant or have a blood-thinning disorder, consult your medical professional before getting a massage.

If you have back pain, ask your doctor or medical professional about adding massages to your pain management plan. TRICARE doesn’t cover massages, but ask if your massage therapist offers discounts for service members and veterans. And, when possible, take steps to avoid injury and back pain.

Perk up your day with oatmeal

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Oatmeal is a heart-healthy food that can be enjoyed any time of day. Try these deliciously easy recipes.

Oatmeal is a comfort food that can be prepared in a variety of ways. It contains soluble fiber, which can help lower your blood cholesterol, keep you fuller longer, and boost your performance.

Choose steel-cut oats (regular or quick-cooking), which provide a nutty texture, or rolled oats, which are available in a variety of thicknesses: regular or old-fashioned (thickest), quick-cooking (thinner), and instant (thinnest). There really isn’t much of a difference in cooking times, so choose whichever texture you prefer. And limit instant varieties, which can pack large amounts of sodium and sugar. Read more...

Oral health matters

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Learn how to take care of your teeth, gums, and mouth during deployment.

Poor oral health adversely affects readiness and could cost you your career, but it’s something you can prevent. Despite advances in dental care and hygiene, deployed service members are still at risk of trench mouth—technically referred to as necrotizing periodontal disease (NPD). This condition can lead to painful ulcers, spontaneous gum bleeding, and a foul taste in your mouth.

The good news is there are things you can do to reduce your risk of trench mouth. Learn how to be proactive and prevent NPD. And schedule regular visits to your dentist when possible. 

  • Poor hygiene.
    • You might have little to no time for oral hygiene when you’re deployed, which can cause you to fall out of your normal routine of brushing and flossing.
    • Solution: Pack a few travel-size tubes of toothpaste, dental floss, and a travel toothbrush in your kit, and establish a routine as quickly as possible.
  • Tobacco use.
    • Using tobacco products can lead to gum disease by reducing blood flow to your gums, which can lead to tooth loss and mouth infections.
    • Solution: It’s never too late to quit. Check out these great tips to become tobacco-free.
  • Poor nutrition.
    • Eating right can be challenging in the field. But not eating enough food or the right foods can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that reduce your ability to fight oral infections.
    • Solution: Although MREs can’t replicate the tastes of a home-cooked meal, they’re nutritionally balanced to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Eat a variety of MREs and as many of the components as you can to make sure you get all the nutrients they provide.
  • Stress.
    • Too much stress can adversely affect your performance and overall health, including dental health. Stress can cause dry mouth and sore, inflamed gums.
    • Solution: Check out HPRC’s Stress Management section for ways to manage your stress. While activities like yoga, meditation, or journaling are very calming, try exercise, reading, or playing card games to help reduce stress too.

The psychology of heart health

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Learn about the strong connection between mental health and heart health.

There’s a strong relationship between your mental health and cardiovascular health, and new research suggests that both are closely tied together in ways not previously understood.

By some estimates, those with cardiovascular disease are 3 times more likely to struggle with depression. They’re also likely to go undiagnosed because of the stigma associated with mental illness and the lack of mental health evaluations conducted in medical settings. The prognosis is worse for adults with depression: 80% are at increased risk of developing new cardiovascular illness, experiencing complications or hospitalizations, and dying from heart disease.

Depression can worsen cardiovascular health through other health behaviors too. For example, those with depression might be less willing to follow medical treatment plans, more likely to eat unhealthy “comfort” foods—especially ones high in sugar and sodium—and live more sedentary lifestyles. Depression impacts certain stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, which also can “spike” your blood sugar, blood pressure, and resting heart rate.

On the flip side, psychological well-being might be associated with higher levels of cardiovascular health. Optimism, for example, might reduce your risk of heart disease. How? Optimism is characterized by expecting good things to happen or having a sense of control, and both perspectives can influence you to engage in restorative health behaviors, reduce risky or harmful behaviors, and make better choices. If you believe that what you do affects your health, you’re more likely to take purposeful action to deal with your illness and take preventive measures to ward off disease in the first place. 

Psychological health and illness impact cardiovascular health, and vice versa. The relationship is a complicated, two-way street. Love your heart by taking care of yourself and seeking help for depression when needed. Your heart will thank you for it.

Boost communication with “I” statements

This Valentine’s Day, take a deeper look at what it means to use “I” statements when communicating with your loved ones. Learn about the “I” statement basics.

Healthy communication requires a balance between being a speaker and a listener. When you’re the speaker, express yourself clearly and concisely with “I” statements.

An “I” statement requires you to start a conversation with “I” instead of “you,” but that’s not where it ends. “I” statements also challenge you to think about why a certain situation matters. What’s bothering you about the events that occurred? Try to connect your feelings to those thoughts and events. And phrase your “I” statement as follows:

  • “I feel (describe your emotions) when (describe event) happens.”

Explore the following examples. Read more...

SuperTrack nutrition for fitness

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Learn how keeping an online food diary can help you stay motivated and on track to getting in shape.

One of the best ways to start losing weight or just improve your nutrition overall is to keep track of what you eat and drink every day. You probably have seen all the advice about eating well-balanced meals—from the amounts you should put on your plate at meals to the recommended amounts of essential nutrients you need every day. But how do you raise your awareness about what you eat and drink? And how can you keep track of whether you’re meeting your nutrition goals?

Try keeping a food diary. There are lots of online resources and apps to help you do this, but one worth exploring is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) SuperTracker. It actually offers several tools to help you track your diet, get nutritional information on more than 8,000 foods, manage your weight, track your physical activities, access a “virtual coach” to meet your goals, and more. You can create a personal profile to save your information and develop a personal plan, or you can use the “general plan” for one-time use.

If you’re looking for more detail about the nutritional content of what you eat and drink, check out the USDA Food Composition Databases. This website contains detailed nutrient information for more than 180,000 branded and generic food products. Need to get more of certain nutrients in your diet? More vitamin B-12? Or more protein? There’s a search engine to help you find what foods provide the ones you’re looking for. You can even specify what type food or which meals you’d like information about.

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