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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.

Revisiting the dangers of energy drinks

Energy drinks continue to be in the news, and their potential harmful effects should not be ignored, especially for children and teens.

HPRC has written several articles about energy drinks, their ingredients, and their potential harmful effects, especially for adolescents. They continue to be the topic of news articles, with another recent death of a teen who apparently consumed several energy drinks while on vacation and then died from cardiac arrest. The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) urges the public to use caution when consuming energy drinks and lists many potential harmful reactions. Read more on this AAPCC web page, including statistics on reports of “exposures” to energy drinks.

HPRC has an Infosheet on energy drinks, highlighting the ingredients you may find on labels,and their potential stimulant effects. Be aware of the potential dangers, especially for children and teens, as outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

SNAP your problems!

Filed under: Children, Families, Teens
SNAP your family’s problems with this easy-to-remember acronym.

Problem solving is a great resilience skill for families. All ages can learn or fine-tune their ability to solve problems. After all, life ensures there will be plenty of problems to solve! You can specifically help children learn how to problem solve with this easy-to-remember acronym—SNAP:

S: State the problem.

N: Name the goal.

A: Find All possible solutions.

P:  Pick one option.

For example, if your child wakes up tired every morning, you can help him or her identify the problem (being tired), set the goal of getting more sleep, and discuss possible solutions (such as going to bed earlier, developing a bedtime routine, or learning a relaxation skill such as deep breathing). Then help your child pick one to try for a specific time period (such as a week) to see if it works. And instead of trying to solve the problem yourself, be a coach and help your child learn how to solve problems using SNAP.

Check out FOCUS’s handout on SNAP to learn more. And for more resilience-building skills for your family, visit HPRC’s Family Resilience section.

Baby bumps and bumper plates: Is weight lifting safe for pregnant women?

Is it safe to lift heavy weights for exercise during pregnancy?

You’ve probably seen the pictures on social media and in the news: a very pregnant woman, with a heavy barbell on her shoulders, mid squat, in an Olympic powerlifting move. But is it safe for mother and baby? If this is a situation you might find yourself in, and/or you’ve talked to your doctor about a pregnancy exercise regimen, there are some things you should know about weight lifting and exercise. Read HPRC’s “Lifting weights during pregnancy” for more information.

Finding the “new normal”

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
After a major trauma, illness, or life-changing event, it is often necessary to adapt your lifestyle and create a new version of what feels “normal.”

Bad things happen. Unfortunately, you can count on experiencing different traumas, deaths, illnesses, and injuries. As a Warfighter (or military family), you can probably expect to face these kinds of situations more often than other people. That doesn’t make these experiences any more pleasant, and often it doesn’t make them any less surprising. After a major trauma, illness, or life-changing event, it is often necessary to adapt and create a “new normal.”

Studies of “post-traumatic growth” have found that trauma survivors can grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually after horrendous experiences such as cancer, terrorism, sexual assault, plane crashes, and even combat. It’s common to react with an emotional roller coaster of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Your natural instinct might be to run from these feelings. However, post-traumatic growth can be accomplished better by taking steps to approach them. The people who support you (including but not limited to therapists and family members) can do the following:

  • Listen empathically, accepting and encouraging full expression of feelings.
  • Avoid clichés and easy answers. Hearing “there will be brighter days” is not helpful.
  • Be patient. Changing perspective won’t happen overnight.
  • Offer a helpful relationship, recognizing there is no “magic technique” or “quick fix.”

You can also be an active agent in your own healing. One technique that can be useful to you is to tell and retell versions of your story in order to become more immune to the hard parts and to reach a point where you can find new meaning in it. People of any age, including Warfighters, can benefit from actively embracing a “new normal” through taking advantage of your relationships and developing a new twist on their story, even when this initially might seem far-fetched.

Portion size matters

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Keeping portion sizes in check is key to managing your weight. Learn how to use your hand as a guide.

A key step toward achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is learning to accurately gauge how much you’re eating. In other words, how big are your portions? The most accurate way to gauge your portions is to measure or weigh your food, but who wants to take measuring cups and a scale to the chow hall? A more practical way to gauge your portion sizes is to “eyeball” them—that is, to visually compare your food portions to a familiar frame of reference. Of course, you might have larger or smaller hands, but generally speaking your hand size equates to your body size and, as a result, your portion needs. This infographic from HPRC uses your hand as your guide—a “handy” way to keep portion sizes in check, which can mean a leaner, healthier, better-performing you.

Portion Infographic [JPG]

Family rituals matter

Rituals can enhance your performance as an athlete, Warfighter, and family member.

Athletes have rituals they engage in to ensure their best performance. Warfighters have rituals around paroling, shooting, and other mission-specific tasks to create the right mindset for the situation. Families can benefit from rituals too.

Consider the types of rituals your family typically engages in. There are probably more than you think. Celebrating holidays, personal traditions such as pancakes on Saturday mornings or memorializing the death of a loved one, and simple everyday acts such as bedtime stories or morning tea are all rituals.

When a couple comes together and starts a family, each person brings along his/her own rituals. Consider it an opportunity to build something new together—a blending of histories. For example, let’s say you grew up celebrating Christmas with your family, but your partner’s family celebrated Hanukah. As a couple you can take the rituals that are meaningful to each of you personally and celebrate all of them to create a new combined holiday tradition for your own family.

Rituals certainly can help your own performance, but they also help deepen bonds and create a distinct family identity that can be supportive in both happy and stressful times.

What is Garcinia cambogia?

What is Garcinia cambogia and why is it being used in weight-loss dietary supplement products?

Garcinia cambogia is being used as a dietary supplement ingredient in some products marketed for weight loss. What is it? And is it effective? Read this Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about Garcinia cambogia to find out. Be sure to check back often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance and weight-loss supplements and how to choose supplements safely.

If you have more questions about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, you can visit the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database or use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

Running 101 for kids and teens

Is your child interested in running as a sport? Check out some helpful strategies on proper running form, hydration, and other tips to ensure your child is safe and gets the most out of this healthy activity.

Running provides an inexpensive and effective way to get your child or adolescent excited about physical fitness for a lifetime. Beyond the physical health benefits, running can also lead to improvements in classroom behavior, self-control, self-esteem, alertness, enthusiasm, creativity, and maturity.

For children of all ages, running is one of the most versatile and natural physical activities. In younger children, running should be encouraged through fun activities such as tag, capture the flag, the fox and the hound, and red light green light. By keeping running fun, your child may learn to enjoy exercise at an early age, helping him or her maintain those habits as he/she gets older.

For older children interested in the sport of running, there are some additional ways to help your child become a strong, healthy runner. Learn more about proper running form, training, hydration, diet, shoes, and safety, which may help your child’s performance and may also decrease his or her risk of injury.

How does air pollution affect physical performance?

It is known that exposure to air pollutants during exercise may affect your health and performance, but what can you do about it?

Inhalation of major air pollutants has been found to decrease lung function and exacerbate symptoms of exercise-induced bronchospasms, including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.  In order to meet oxygen demands during light- to moderate-intensity exercise, you take in more air with each breath. And when you breathe through your mouth, you bypass the nose’s natural filtration of large particles and soluble vapors. As your exercise intensity increases, you breathe faster and deeper, which also increases the amount of pollution inhaled and the depth it travels into your respiratory system.

If you live in or near a busy city, you are exposed to even more combustion-related pollutants—such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), and ozone—that can inflame your airways and worsen asthmatic responses. Exposure to freshly generated emissions is most common near areas of high vehicular traffic.

While indoor exercise is often a good alternative to limit exposure to outdoor pollutants, some indoor conditions may be just as toxic. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)—the more toxic NOx—is usually higher in gas-heated homes and indoor areas with poor ventilation. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also more likely to occur indoors. When carbon monoxide is in your system, the blood carries substantially less oxygen, reducing performance and eventually leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to choose well-ventilated areas for indoor exercise.

Particulate matter and ozone are two significant pollutants you may be exposed to outdoors. Inhalation of high levels of particulates has been shown to reduce exercise performance as much as 24.4% during short-term, high-intensity cycling. Women may be more vulnerable than men to certain particulates, associated with greater decrements in performance. Ultrafine particle concentrations are highest in freshly generated automobile exhaust, and these small particles can be carried deep into the lungs. However, the further away you are from fresh exhaust, the less concentrated the particulates.

Bad ozone occurs lower in the atmosphere; it is not directly emitted into the air but is created from chemical reactions between NOx, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heat, and sunlight. Ozone levels also are higher in summer than in winter; and especially in larger, hotter cities, concentrations tend to peak around midday when solar radiation is highest. Exposure to ozone during exercise has been found to increase resting blood pressure, reduce lung function, and decrease exercise capacity.

The risks associated with not exercising at all are far greater than the risks of exercising outdoors; it just takes a little more planning on days and in conditions when pollution is bad.  When planning outdoor exercise activities, follow these tips to limit your exposure to pollutants:

  • Avoid exercising in areas of heavy traffic, such as along highways and during rush hour.
  • During summer, exercise earlier in the morning, when ozone levels and temperatures are not as high.
  • Check the domestic or international air-quality ratings to determine if it’s safe to exercise outside. Limit your time outside on Code Red and Code Orange days. Environmental conditions on these days are not healthy, especially for children, the elderly, and people with existing respiratory conditions.
  • Exercise indoors when the air quality indicates high ozone and particulate levels.
  • Before any demanding physical activity, limit your carbon monoxide exposure by avoiding smoky areas and long car rides in congested traffic.

Can exercise help prevent suicide?

Exercise can greatly enhance mental health and well-being, but can it play a part in suicide prevention?

Suicide is a complex issue with many contributing factors, including mental health issues. Focusing on treating mental health issues and strengthening mental fitness is key for suicide prevention. Currently, efforts within the military focus on education, early intervention, decreasing stigma towards mental health treatments, and adapting a holistic approach to fostering mental fitness—which includes exercise. Learn more about how physical activity and regular exercise can improve mental health in HPRC’s answer to “Can exercise be a part of suicide prevention?

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