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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.

Dogs fighting depression and PTSD

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Service dogs and therapy dogs can help wounded and ill service members recover. Learn how these dogs can help in multiple ways.

The U.S. military supports the use of service dogs and therapy dogs to help wounded warriors obtain a higher level of independence, well-being, and purpose.

There’s an important distinction between service and therapy dogs. Service dogs are trained to do work or perform specific tasks for those with disabilities (as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act). The dog becomes a full-time companion for the person it serves. Service dogs also can retrieve objects, turn on lights, or open doors for those with mobility issues. Guide dogs assist visually impaired individuals, and signal dogs alert those who are hearing-impaired.

Therapy dogs offer goal-directed emotional, psychological, and (sometimes) physical support. They’re trained to provide comfort, affection, and unconditional acceptance. They can complement treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) too. A therapy dog usually belongs to its “handler,” who accompanies it on visits to patients. Such dogs also complete special training, but it’s less lengthy than that of service dogs.

The value of animal-assisted interventions (including service and therapy dogs) has become widely accepted. The range of benefits includes positive physical and psychological health effects. Just physically touching a dog can reduce blood pressure, anxiety, stress, and hopelessness. These dogs are helping injured and ill service members at military and veterans’ hospitals across the country.

A special program exists where the roles of dogs in service and therapy come together: Veterans with PTSD train service dogs for veterans with mobility issues. This is a win-win: Both the veteran-trainer and the mobility-impaired veteran benefit from the same dog. Veteran-trainers learn and use positive methods of shaping a dog’s behavior, and as they do so, regain control of their own emotions, focus their attention, improve their social competence, and gain a sense of meaningful purpose.

Learn more about training dogs for service. And watch the Military Health System’s video of therapy dogs at work.

Training by suspense

Learn how to get a total-body workout with suspension training, using just your body weight as the resistance to perform exercises that build strength, flexibility, and balance.

Suspension training is popular among both civilians and service members, for good reason. If you’re on deployment or otherwise traveling, it isn’t practical to lug around heavy exercise equipment. But pack a couple of suspension-training straps, and you’ve got part of a well-rounded training routine covered. Once the straps are securely anchored to something sturdy enough to hold your weight, just place your hands or feet into the loops, and your body weight enhances the effectiveness of exercises such as pull-ups, push-ups, lunges, core strengthening, and more.

While there are various ways to adjust and adapt the exercises for less experienced exercisers, this type of workout does call for some initial joint and core stability. There’s also potential risk of injury, especially for beginners. Before you try this for the first time, it’s a good idea to get some advice and guidance from a suspension-training professional. More gyms are now offering suspension-training classes, so you also can use one of these to get started. In the meantime, visit the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s page about suspension training for an idea of what to expect.

Military moms with postpartum depression

Military moms, like all moms, are at risk of postpartum depression after giving birth. Support and resources are available to help you cope.

Motherhood can be hard for military moms with postpartum depression (PPD), especially those who juggle a demanding career while parenting. You might wonder how you’ll manage your new parenting responsibilities with work. The good news is support is available, so you don’t have to struggle alone.

PPD affects nearly 15% of all women who give birth. While some moms might have the “baby blues” shortly after childbirth, others can experience more severe PPD that lasts much longer. You might feel worthless, lose interest in your baby, or eat and sleep too much or too little. Moms with PPD also can have memory problems, doubt their mothering skills, or lose pleasure in activities they once enjoyed.

Being a pregnant service member can be challenging too. You often have to manage long work hours throughout your pregnancy. And some expectant moms choose to keep their pregnancy-related emotions “in check,” fearing negative reactions from coworkers. Enlisted female service members also tend to be younger and have less support. Some might have unplanned pregnancies. You’re also at increased risk of PPD if you have a history of depression, marital problems, stress, or a very fussy baby.

PPD might be preventable if you know the warning signs and where to get help. There are many useful resources—including health care, breastfeeding support, and childcare—to help you cope. And check with your installation about new parent support programs and other health and wellness activities offered through Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs. Military moms now get 12 weeks of paid parental leave, so use this time to take care of your baby and yourself.

Seek military and family life counseling to improve your mental health and well-being too. And visit HPRC’s Pregnancy page to learn more about pre- and post-natal care.

Prevent altitude sickness

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Altitude sickness can affect your performance. Learn about what happens to your body and how to look for warning signs.

Altitude affects what your body needs and how it responds, especially when it comes to exercise. Acute mountain sickness (AMS)—caused by dry air, a decrease in oxygen, and low barometric pressure—can severely impact your health and performance. The good news is there are things you can do to help reduce your risk of altitude sickness.

Performing physical activity—whether you’re at the gym or on a mission—at moderate (4,000–7,900 ft or 1,200–2,400 m) and high (7,900–13,000 ft or 2,400–4,000 m) altitudes can be challenging. At high altitude, oxygen pressure is significantly lower, which results in less oxygen in the blood and muscle tissues. And as altitude increases, there’s also a decrease in air temperature (about 2°F for every 500 ft or 150 m), less moisture (resulting in drier air), and increased solar radiation. AMS can affect anyone who is unacclimatized and ascends too rapidly to high altitudes. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, vomiting, sleep problems, shortness of breath, dehydration, and impaired cognition and balance.

The risk and severity of altitude sickness are greater above 4,000 meters, and treatment might require evacuation to lower altitude or immediate medical attention. To reduce your risk of AMS, wear sunscreen, drink water, and try to limit your physical activity at altitude for the first 24 hours. Acclimate to moderate elevations (2,000–3,000 m), if possible.

With current and future military operations in mountainous regions, the issue of AMS is a serious concern. However, leaders can help manage and perhaps prevent AMS among Warfighters by being aware of the elevation, types of activities, and lengths of stay at altitudes. Visit HPRC’s Altitude section to learn more about performance at altitude.

Whole grains 101

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Grains, Nutrition
Try these tips to enjoy more whole grains in every meal and snack.

Whole grains—such as brown rice and oatmeal—keep you fuller longer and provide sustainable energy to boost your performance throughout the day. Those who eat whole grains daily have a lower incidence of prediabetes, heart disease, cancer, respiratory and infectious diseases, and mental decline too.

Make sure to make at least half of your grain choices whole grains daily to get the vitamins and nutrients they contain and that are missing from refined and processed grains. The more processed grains you eat, the more important nutrients you miss out on. Read more...

What’s a proprietary blend?

Does your supplement contain a “proprietary blend”? What does that tell you about its ingredients?

Before you take a dietary supplement, look at the Supplement Facts panel on the label and check to see if any of the ingredients are contained in a “proprietary blend.” Proprietary blends aren’t always called “proprietary blends” on the label (they might be described as “complexes,” “matrixes,” “formulas,” or other descriptive names), but you can tell if your product contains one if you see a list of ingredients without the amounts of each one next to them. Although the absence of a proprietary blend doesn’t automatically make a product safe, the presence of one is something to think twice about. To learn more, read the OPSS FAQ about proprietary blends.

Fighting the “negativity bias”

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Learn how your brain focuses on the negative, how that can impact your well-being, and how to balance out your perception.

The human brain has evolved to be adept at identifying threats and challenges, which enables you to navigate through a dangerous world successfully. This ability helps keep Warfighters, family members, and teammates vigilant and safe from harm. But it also can skew your perception of life toward the negative. Read on to learn how to keep your mind in balance.

This hardwired tendency, called “negativity bias,” causes your brain to prioritize, seek out, and lock on to negative information out in the world like a heat-seeking missile. You’re likely to process negative events more fully than positive ones. Negative emotions seem to hang around a lot longer than positive emotions. And when you get home at the end of the day, you’re more likely to mull over the one negative comment someone made about your work and ignore the many positive comments you received from others. It’s just the way your brain works.

Negativity bias is adaptive and helpful in many ways, but the key to maintaining good mental health is in finding balance. So what can you do? Here are a few strategies to try:

  • Spend a few minutes each day looking for the good around you. Write down the positive things you notice and reflect or share with other people.
  • Check your interpretations. If you notice you tend to interpret the world in negative ways, ask yourself if you’re seeing things accurately and if you can be more flexible in your thinking.
  • Be intentional about appreciating the ordinary. Good things don’t have to be big things. When you can learn to be grateful for and appreciate the little things, you can balance out the impact of your negativity bias.

The bad stuff will find you, but work each day at fighting the negativity bias by searching for the good.

Raise healthy eaters—Part 2: Age-specific tips

Part 2 of HPRC’s “healthy eater” series explores age-specific tips to get your kids to eat healthy.

Children need guidance from their parents about eating a well-balanced diet. As they grow, your interactions with them around food will change. They’ll take on more responsibility for feeding themselves too. Still, you’ll continue to influence their eating preferences through the foods you prepare and offer to them. Read on for age-specific tips to encourage your kids’ healthy eating too. And if you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to read Part 1 about general nutrition tips for helping your children learn how to be “healthy eaters” at all ages. Read more...

EPOC-alypse, now!

Some exercise programs claim their workouts give you “afterburn.” But does your body continue to burn calories after exercise?

Have you ever raced to the top of a long flight of stairs and found yourself gasping for breath just minutes later? Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), also known as “afterburn,” occurs after strenuous exercise as a way to bring your body back to its normal metabolic rate. It takes time for your body to replenish the oxygen used up during exercise, and during this time you continue to burn calories as a result of your elevated metabolism.

You might have experienced EPOC after completing a tough workout, remaining hot and sweaty even 20–30 minutes later. The good news is that it doesn’t take a long workout to achieve that afterburn. Still, it means your workouts need to be more intense. Rounds of short bursts of high-intensity exercise—such as cardio or resistance training—followed by a period of low-intensity exercise or rest is the best way to achieve afterburn. This style of intermittent high-intensity exercise can burn more fat, improve glucose tolerance, and even increase your aerobic fitness. Many commercial programs and gyms claim their workouts will increase EPOC, but this isn’t “new science.” And you don’t have to pay extra money to achieve the same results.

Split your cardio workout into two shorter sessions of higher intensity to accomplish a longer afterburn. For example, if you usually cycle for 50 minutes after work, do two 25-minute rides instead: one before work and one after work. Or replace your normal resistance training with supersets: Pair 2 exercises of opposing muscle groups and complete them back-to-back with minimal rest. For example, combine pull-ups with pushups into one superset, completing 8–12 repetitions of each exercise for 3–5 sets. You also can do a full-body workout by combining 3–4 different supersets. Remember to maintain proper form because it reduces your risk of injury too.

Raise healthy eaters—Part 1: For kids 2–18

It’s important to teach children about acceptable eating behaviors and how to control their eating impulses. In this two-part series, HPRC offers tips to help your kids eat healthy.

How you approach feeding your children influences their food choices, the amount they eat, and their weight. While it’s important for kids to maintain a healthy weight, it’s also helpful for them to determine when they’re hungry and when they’re full.

Insisting kids eat more after they say they’re full can interfere with their ability to learn what “being full” really feels like. Trust that your child’s brain is sending signals back and forth to his or her belly, indicating “full.” And if children are offered a selection of generally healthy foods, they’ll eat the right amount and grow healthy. Read the rest of this article for specific tips you can use to help your own children eat healthfully as they grow.  

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