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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.

“Bromances” and stress

What does the behavior of rats suggest about how “bromances” might help men under stress?

Close relationships provide social support that can help relieve stress. One type we don’t know much about is “bromances”—close friendships between two men—but how these help or hurt stress levels isn’t clear.

It’s hard to do scientific research on this topic with humans because it would involve intentionally stressing people out to see how they respond. Who would volunteer for that?! So instead, scientists who study human social behavior use rats, which have social behavior very similar to that of humans. To learn more about the impact of bromances on stress, they observed male rat “friendships” under stressful situations. Here’s what they found.

Under mildly stressful situations, male rats became more social and cooperative with other male rats, compared to when they weren’t stressed. The rats’ oxytocin levels increased. They touched and snuggled other male rats more. Under severely stressful situations though, the male rats’ behavior changed. They were no longer cooperative and became withdrawn, isolated, and aggressive.

Of course, people aren’t rats, and one research study is never a good foundation for reliable conclusions, often raising more questions than it answers. However, it can give us “food for thought.” One idea from this study is that bromances seem beneficial, depending on stress level. Your friendships with other guys might help keep mild stress at bay. So spending time with your fellow men just might help you feel calmer.

Yet in severely stressful situations, bromances didn’t serve the same purpose. The rats became disconnected and hostile. Could the same be true for male humans? We can’t say for sure, but men exposed to severely stressful situations that result in PTSD sometimes have similar reactions.

Looking for ways to beef up your own stress-management skills? Check out HPRC’s Stress Management Strategies section. Concerned about your friend’s or spouse’s reaction to stress? Our Post-Deployment section has some resources to help.  

Blisters: Sock it to ‘em

Get off on the right foot! Learn how to prevent blisters.

There are “steps” you can take to protect your feet from blisters. Common among athletes and service members, they might seem like a minor nuisance. However, if left untreated, they can lead to serious infections, sepsis (blood infection), and knee, ankle, or hip injuries.

Blisters result from a combination of friction and moisture. They’ve been blamed on shoe fit or lacing style, but scientific research has shown this isn’t necessarily the case. Common remedies—such as applying antiperspirant or drying powders to the bottom of the foot—aren’t very effective. And in some instances, they can cause irritation, increasing your chances of developing more blisters.

So if friction and moisture are causing problems, then wearing proper socks can bring relief. Look for ones made from acrylic fibers or materials other than cotton, which tends to stay wet. Synthetic materials (nylon, neoprene, and polyester) reduce the amount of shoe-to-sock and sock-to-foot friction by wicking moisture away from your skin. Padded socks also help because they allow for movement within the yarn, reducing frictional forces.

Some evidence suggests wearing a synthetic nylon or polyester liner with an outer-padded wool sock can help prevent blisters. Tip: Try finding your ideal sock before buying boots or shoes because the added bulk might affect the shoe size you need.

You also can reduce your risk of blisters by planning ahead, especially on extremely hot or rainy days. Avoid puddles. Remember to bring an extra pair of socks too. And avoid pouring water on your head since it can drip down into your shoes. Keep your feet happy and blister-free. 

Support for men with cancer

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Cancer, Support
Find out how cancer-support groups help men connect with others, share information, and learn coping strategies.

Men with cancer, especially those in the military, might hesitate to tap into helpful resources such as support groups that offer information and encouragement. Battles with cancer often trigger feelings of fear and vulnerability, and men are socialized from childhood to believe that it’s “weak” to show sensitivity. Just because men don’t express their emotions often doesn’t mean they don’t feel them. And it doesn’t mean they should have to face cancer and related challenges alone.

There’s a difference between “dwelling” on your feelings and expressing them. Speaking up often helps men process their emotions and feel less troubled. Sharing doesn’t always feel like the thing to do; the support environment makes a big difference. So what’s an optimal support group? Some men with cancer prefer these 3 qualities:

  • being able to connect with others,
  • participating in mixed-gender groups, and
  • meeting those with mixed diagnoses.

There are other factors to consider too. Some support groups are led by professionals, while others are led by cancer survivors. Some are disease-specific (for example, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers). Some groups are age- or gender-specific (for example, young adults, men, women, etc.), while others are time-limited, such as a 6-week series for those newly diagnosed. 

But there are trade-offs, since these groups support different coping needs. While a mixed-gender group with various diagnoses can help you express yourself more easily, you might also benefit from one that shares specific information and uses a problem-solving approach.

HPRC offers helpful tips on using emotion-focused and problem-solving coping strategies. And visit the Cancer Support Community to find a local support group that works for you.

Supplements to boost your T

What does the science say about testosterone boosters and their ability to enhance your performance in the gym and in the bedroom?

Before you reach for dietary supplements marketed as “testosterone boosters,” consider this: They probably won’t produce the results you’re looking for, and while some of the ingredients in these products might not be cause for concern, others might put your health and career at risk. To learn more about the safety and effectiveness these types of supplements, visit the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about testosterone boosters. However, if you’re concerned about your testosterone levels or if you’re experiencing related symptoms such as low sex drive, insomnia, or depression, talk to your healthcare provider.   

The “I” in team

What strengthens teams? What breaks them down? Find out how your mood and drive to dominate impacts your team’s stability and performance.

Your team wins when you have a good attitude, manage your emotions, and care about your teammates. But your team can break down, especially when members let their talents or controlling ways interfere with reaching team goals.

What individual traits make a team stronger? Managing your emotions can make you a better teammate, unite your group, and help your team thrive. People who deal with their emotions well are often good “team players” because they tend to listen openly to other points of view. And they’re less likely to feel threatened when wrong.

With emotions in check, you’re more likely to be cooperative and open to resolving conflict, instead of avoiding it. Just one team member with a negative outlook can affect the whole team, while those with a “can do” attitude can improve atmosphere and team performance.

What individual traits break down a team? Teammates rely on each other for the team’s overall success, but those with too much talent can break down a team. Teams don’t function well when talent—from one or a select few—dominates the group.

That’s why cohesiveness is essential to solid teamwork. If individuals try to dominate, unity breaks down and can cause arguments over authority. Teams become weaker when members are more concerned with advancing themselves and undermining their teammates, interfering with reaching the common goal.

How do your traits impact your unit? How do they affect your family? Check out HPRC’s Mental Resilience and Family Resilience sections and learn how to become a more effective team member—at work and home. 

Trigger point treatments

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
How effective are trigger point injections and dry needling at treating trigger point pain?

In 2015, HPRC posted an introductory article on trigger points. Commonly called muscle knots, these tight and sometimes painful spots often can be treated on your own. But when that fails, they might need further attention from a healthcare professional. Such treatment might include trigger point injections directly into the affected muscle. Another treatment is dry needling (similar to acupuncture), in which a healthcare specialist uses shallowly inserted thin needles without injection. The effectiveness of trigger point injections and dry needling for pain management varies.

To read a basic description and introduction, visit What exactly is a ‘trigger point’? At-home treatments for trigger points include massage, manually or with a massage ball, and foam-rolling exercises. To learn more about treatments your healthcare provider can offer, read on.

Practice safe sun

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Exposure, Heat, Safety, Sun
Learn how to protect yourself from the summer sun while still enjoying time outdoors.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., but with proper precautions you can decrease your risk considerably. The sun releases invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause cataracts (clouding of the eye lens) and skin cancers. An estimated 63,000 new cases and 9,000 reported deaths from melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—occur each year.

UV rays also cause tanning and sunburns—and can damage your skin after only 15 minutes of exposure. They weaken the skin’s elasticity, causing wrinkling, rash, and freckles too.

Remember that you can get sun damage on sunny and cloudy days. UV rays penetrate clouds, exposing you to 80% of the sun’s harmful effects. The good news is that you can take steps to protect yourself from UV rays, while enjoying the outdoors.

  • Limit your time in the sun. Seek shade and try to avoid sun exposure during midday (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) when the rays are strongest. And avoid suntanning and burning.
  • Cover up. Wear protective clothing, including hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants when going outdoors. Remember that protection decreases when clothes are wet.
  • Apply sunscreen. Use water-resistant sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 or higher. Apply and let it absorb 15–30 minutes before heading outdoors. Use lip balm with SPF 30 or higher to protect your lips too. Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming, sweating, or toweling off. 
  • Protect your eyes. Wear sunglasses to cover the skin around your eyes and help prevent eye damage. When choosing sunglasses, check the label to make sure they block 100% of UV rays. 

“Smart snacking” for kids

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
In the past 25 years, young children have greatly increased the number of snacks they consume. Try these “smart snacking” tips to help keep your kids healthy.

Almost 1 in 3 children starts school either overweight or obese—but giving healthy snacks to your preschoolers can get them off to a good start. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends healthy snacks as part of early childhood nutrition, especially since younger kids have small stomachs and might not be able to get all their nutrients at mealtime.

Over half of children ages 2–6 eat 3–5 snacks daily. Sweet and salty snacks (including sugary drinks) make up nearly 30% of their daily calories. These energy-dense foods also are linked to excess weight gain.

But there are ways to get the proper nutrients into their little bodies without going over their daily calorie needs. 2–3 healthful snacks can be just the ticket. Here are some helpful hints for “smart snacking.”

  • Think food groups. Many traditional snacks are carb-based with little nutrition and empty calories. Include 2 food groups per snack, such as whole-grain cereal with dried fruit, peanut butter on apple slices, plain yogurt with chopped fruit, or nut butter on whole-wheat bread or cracker.
  • Fill in the gaps. Young children can be picky eaters, especially at mealtime. Eating a snack in-between—such as fruit, vegetable, or protein (for example, chicken, egg, or nut butter)—can make up for what they’ve missed.
  • Timing is important. Limit snack time to 10–15 minutes to prevent overeating. And avoid eating too close to mealtime.
  • Portion size matters. Kids are small so their portions should be too. Limit portion sizes to half of adult ones, except they’ll still need about 2–2½ cups of dairy daily.
  • Think easy access. Store healthy-snack portions in baggies or containers at home. Take them on the go too!

Visit HPRC’s Family Nutrition page for helpful resources on nutrition, healthy recipes, and more.

It’s Men’s Health Awareness Month

The Military Health System has declared June as Men’s Health Awareness Month. Exercise, good nutrition, and regular screenings can help keep you healthy.

The best ways for men of any age to stay healthy include understanding risk factors, exercising regularly, eating right, and getting screened for potential health issues. Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death among men. The good news is that exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce your risk for these illnesses. Visit your doctor for routine checkups too.

The Military Health System has declared June as Men’s Health Awareness Month. Wear Blue Day is Friday, June 17. Wear blue to help raise awareness about men’s health issues. Help spread the word that good-health habits keep them fit and strong. And visit HPRC’s Exercise section for information on strength training, fitness guidelines, and more.

Is your supplement adulterated or misbranded?

Filed under: FDA, OPSS, Supplements
Some dietary supplement products contain ingredients that just shouldn’t be there. Here’s what to look out for.

In recent years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken action against dietary supplement companies for selling products with ingredients that put them in a category of being “adulterated” or “misbranded.” Examples of these ingredients include Acacia rigidula, BMPEA, DMAA, DMBA, ephedra, methylsynephrine, and picamilon. Such ingredients have been determined to be unsafe, lack evidence of safety, don’t meet the definition of a dietary ingredient, or combinations of these issues. Some are even used as drugs in other countries.

Although these ingredients are not allowed in dietary supplements, you might still find them in some products, so always read product labels carefully. Service members especially take note! Since FDA has declared the ingredients listed above (and others) to be “illegal” or “not allowed” in dietary supplements for one reason or another, commands have restricted their use by military members. For more information about FDA’s role in regulating dietary supplement products and ingredients, visit FDA’s web page.

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