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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.

What’s so great about gratitude?

Filed under: Gratitude, Mood
During the holiday season, we hear a lot about giving. Learn about the relationship and mind-body benefits from feeling and expressing gratitude.

Gratitude comes in different forms and has many benefits. There’s that thankful feeling when you receive a gift. Gratitude can also spring from awareness and appreciation of what’s really important. You can also express thanks to acknowledge that you value others, their actions, or how you benefit from others’ kindness.

When you express gratitude, you form tighter bonds with others and invest more in those relationships. Naturally, you take care of little things that help your relationship work. For example, expressing gratitude daily to your romantic partner for three weeks helps you care more about your loved one. When you say thanks, your partner is more likely to feel that there’s a fair split with household responsibilities.

If you’re feeling grateful, you might want to assist others. You could likely help someone with a personal problem, offer emotional support, and work cooperatively. You could also face what’s hard and feel more comfortable in voicing concerns to a friend or partner—partially because you’re in touch with how important that person is to you. Feeling gratitude increases your satisfaction with life and helps you remember what matters most—relationships, not material things.

The benefits of tapping into gratitude don’t end with better relationships. Writing down what you’re grateful for every day for three weeks can improve your mood, coping abilities, mental health, and physical well-being. Gratitude can also strengthen your belief that life is manageable, meaningful, and sensible. Thankfulness can help you feel less sad or anxious, as you experience more joy, enthusiasm, and love. It can even lower your blood pressure and risk of stroke, reduce stress hormones, and improve your immune system.

Chilling out with relaxation drinks?

Relaxation drinks seem like an appealing way to relieve stress, but some are not as harmless as they appear.

If you’re feeling stressed, don’t rely on liquid relaxation products to relieve your tension. While energy drinks are promoted to give you an extra boost, relaxation drinks* are marketed to do just the opposite and help you, well, relax. These products commonly contain the amino acid theanine, as well as several different plant-based ingredients. But the science doesn’t support the use of relaxation drinks to decrease stress or anxiety, and consumers should be cautious of two ingredients: kava and melatonin. Bottom line, if you’re feeling stressed, try to identify the cause, and then use stress management strategies backed by scientific evidence. Read more here.

Foam roll with it!

Use a foam roller to relieve overworked muscles, reduce soreness, and improve performance.

Foam rolling can help increase your range of motion (that is, how much your muscles and joints can move) and reduce muscle soreness that results from working out too hard or too long. So how does it work? More research is needed to understand its full effects, but Golgi tendon organs—specialized muscle nerve endings—are sensitive to changes in muscle tension. When you roll over them, the muscles relax. Here are some tips for effective foam rolling:

  • Don’t foam roll over newly injured areas.
  • If you’re just starting out, you might want to choose a lower-density foam roller. Higher-density foam rollers will provide more pressure.
  • Roll to find tight spots in your muscles and then hold your weight over those areas, or continuously roll over a muscle to loosen it.
  • Gradually increase the amount of time you roll over each muscle. If you’re just starting, foam roll 1–2 minutes per muscle group.
  • Focus on large muscle groups such as your quads and upper back.

Check out HPRC’s how-to videos on foam rolling calves, hamstrings, glutes, and more. Roll on!

Moving to a beat helps your brain

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Learn how moving to a rhythm can build concentration and help heal the brain!

You probably know how good it feels to tap your foot to the beat of a familiar song. But did you know that moving your body in sync with a beat could help improve thinking and learning abilities? It might possibly repair brain injuries too.

Recent hi-tech breakthroughs show that lining up precise, repeated movements (such as hand clapping) with a certain beat could boost brainpower. Similar to how biofeedback helps you use your mind to ease stress and manage pain, this synchronized metronome training (SMT) approach helps to master the timing of these movements.

SMT is linked to improved concentration, academic performance, behavior, and muscular coordination in children diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s also a promising treatment for those diagnosed with brain-based movement disorders such as cerebral palsy, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and stroke-related injuries. SMT offers mind-body benefits for active-duty soldiers coping with blast-related traumatic brain injuries (e.g., inattention and short-term memory loss). It’s even helped healthy golfers step up their game.

SMT helps improve fluid movements for those experiencing excess muscle tension. It also enables better concentration for those feeling distracted or anxious. People can learn to complete a task without trying too hard. Through SMT, you can train your brain by “letting” movements happen—key to its success.

Is 5-HTP the key?

Can 5-HTP help with depression, appetite, and other conditions?

Your body makes 5-HTP, but it can also be made in a lab and used in dietary supplements. Products containing 5-HTP are marketed to help with a number of health conditions, including appetite control and depression. Do they work? Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ on 5-HTP to find out.

Do you have other questions about dietary supplements that need answers? Then check out our other OPSS FAQs, where you’ll find information about performance products, weight-loss products, specific ingredients, and more. 

More tips for combating loneliness

Learn some great strategies to combat loneliness and feel better connected with your community.

Last week, we discussed how loneliness can be isolating and suggested ways to connect with one person. This week, we’ll add a few more strategies to your arsenal—and help you turn loneliness into a motivating force:

  • Go out to public places, especially by yourself. Doing so can give you more opportunities to connect with others. You can also make virtual connections online or through social media.
  • Join an activity group or faith community that aligns with your interests or beliefs. Volunteer for a cause. Choose something you value and attend in-person, or find an online community.
  • Adopt a pet if possible. If not, try helping at an animal shelter or rescue group. Pets can provide important mental and social benefits. Owning a pet can actually lead to an increase in oxytocin, a “feel-good” hormone.
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. For example, don’t just rely on your unit members for social plans. Build meaningful and lasting relationships with a variety of different groups such as your family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Each can offer something different to enhance your life.

Football season fitness

Ready for some football? Get off the couch and in the game with these fitness tips.

For many fans, watching football means indulging in comfort food and drinks—and lounging around on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a way to round out the weekend and relax before the start of another workweek. But even one day of binging on game-day food and relaxation can ruin your regular healthy routine. The average football game consists of about 11 minutes of actual play—so you’re watching huddles, replays, and commercials in-between. Use that downtime to your advantage, call an audible, and get moving during time-outs!

  • Play some flag football at halftime.
  • Complete a quick workout during commercial breaks.
  • Remember to make healthy food choices too.

Check out A Football Fan’s Guide to Food and Fitness for ways to stay healthy and active during football season.

 

Unmasking high-altitude training

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Should you be using your Pro Mask for altitude training?

Using your military Pro Mask or other commercial mask device as a method of respiratory muscle training (RMT) isn’t going to prepare you for higher elevations. Increasing the strength of your respiratory muscles which help you breathe—your diaphragm and the muscles between your ribs—will improve aerobic fitness, especially for long-duration tasks.

RMT can be achieved through whole-body aerobic exercise, upper-body strength conditioning, and some commercial RMT devices. Studies show that RMT slightly improves performance in those who are already aerobically fit (e.g., military personnel). It offers somewhat more benefit for those less fit or with chronic conditions.

Your Pro Mask was made to protect your lungs, eyes, and face from chemical and biological agents, radioactive particles, and battlefield contaminants. It doesn’t create enough airflow resistance to help improve aerobic capacity. In addition, it wasn’t designed as exercise equipment. There is no scientific evidence that suggests using commercial masks at normal altitudes will improve your performance at high altitudes. Read more about the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine’s (USARIEM) review of Pro Masks and commercial products for exercise training. Check out HPRC’s take on using high-altitude masks and improving work performance at higher elevations.

Decrease your holiday food stress

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Need to cross “food worries” off your holiday checklist? There are ways to add nutrients, cut calories, and enjoy the holidays!

Who says that figuring out what to prepare and eat over the coming holiday weeks needs to be stressful? Worrying about choosing appropriate food gifts? How about gaining weight and never taking it off—again? These concerns are often on our minds at this time of year. So here are some tips to enjoy a healthy holiday.

  • Make recipes more nutritious. Use evaporated skim milk in place of heavy cream in soups, quiches, pies, and other recipes. Substitute whole-wheat for white flour in bread, gravy, and cookie recipes.
  • Reduce your calorie intake. Choose more fruits and vegetables at each meal. Don’t skip a meal—because you could overeat at the next meal. Eat smaller portions instead.
  • Pick healthy gifts. Offer a welcome basket of fresh fruit or assorted packages of nuts and dried fruit. Put together a basket of healthy ingredients for a quick meal. Give a personal favorite such as a special bread, olive oil, or jam.

Challenge yourself by putting at least one tip into practice. It guarantees your holidays will be less stressful!

Running safety

Filed under: Fitness, Running, Safety
Safety first! Check out some tips on how to stay safe while you’re out for a run.

Running is one of the simplest forms of exercise—just throw on your shoes and head out the door. But there are a few simple things you can do to ensure your run is safe too:

  • Carry identification. Bring some form of identification with you. There are various types of wristbands and shoe tags to provide emergency contact and medical information too.
  • Stay visible. Wear a headlamp and/or reflective gear so drivers can see you when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Make yourself visible to oncoming traffic.
  • Turn the music down. Music can be a great way to help you keep pace. But if your tunes are too loud, you may not be able to hear cars or people coming up behind you. Keep music at a volume low enough that you can hear what’s going on around you, or try wearing just one earpiece when you run.
  • Grab a buddy. Running with a friend is a great way to keep both of you motivated and accountable. But when you do run alone, let someone know and share your planned route.  
  • Use the crosswalk and follow crossing signs. Drivers tend to be more aware of pedestrians near crosswalks because in many areas pedestrians (runners included) have the right-of-way there. If you’re running where there is a crosswalk, use it.
  • Don’t assume a car will stop just because you’re in a crosswalk. Make sure the driver sees you, slows down, and allows you to safely cross the street.
  • Run against street traffic. Sometimes it’s easier to run on the shoulder or in a bike lane. Remember to run against traffic (normally the left side of the road) so you can see the cars and the drivers can see you.

Stay safe and happy running! 

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