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.
Meditation can actually change how your brain functions, building resilience and improving your performance. Much the same way you strengthen your muscles, when you exercise different parts of your brain, you make subtle changes to its structure. These physical changes lead to changes in your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Specifically, it can change those parts of the brain associated with anxiety, mind wandering, mood, fear, stress, empathy, emotion, and pain.
Meditation uses thinking strategies to better manage stress, using your mind to tune into sensations in your body, accept feelings, and observe thoughts without judgment. However, meditation is about much more than just relaxation. It actually creates a state of calm alertness. With the regular practice of meditation, you can bring about structural changes in your brain that make this condition last longer.
If you repeat the same thought or action many, many times, your brain forms new pathways—a process known as “neuroplasticity.” Whether you’re finding your way around a new base, or your children are learning their multiplication tables, skills become ingrained as the brain changes. Meditation helps by affecting the parts of your brain responsible for attention, the ability to think and act with flexibility, and managing emotions. In fact, the emotion regulation center of your brain can grow with meditation, the self-control center becomes more active, and as you become less stressed and fearful, the fear center in your brain can actually shrink in size.
You might not be aware of changes overnight, but persistence will yield rewards. And some meditation is better than none. Just as you get stronger with more time at the gym, the more you meditate, the better your brain becomes equipped to reach that state of calm alertness. To learn more about how to meditate, visit HPRC’s Mind-Body Techniques section.
Blue light is a type of light emitted from all electronic devices and energy-efficient light bulbs. It can give you an energy boost equal to or better than 2 cups of coffee. Blue light may even enhance athletic performance. Sounds great, right? But what if the missing piece of your performance puzzle is sleep? An energy boost during the day may be welcome, but using electronic gadgets at night can be detrimental to your sleep health. The blue light they emit can suppress the secretion of melatonin, a powerful sleep hormone, and disrupt your natural circadian rhythm. Try to manage your exposure to blue light with these tips:
- During the day, take advantage of the bonus your electronic devices give you to boost your attention, reaction times, and mood.
- Shut off all electronic devices at least 2 hours before you need to go to sleep.
- Consider wearing blue-blocking glasses when you need to sleep but can’t avoid blue light.
- If you like having a nightlight, use dim, red bulbs. Red light has less impact on your melatonin levels. (Parents take note for the nightlight in your child’s bedroom.)
One last tip: During the day, get plenty of bright daylight. It makes you feel better during the day, and it will help you sleep better at night.
Thanksgiving is a day of full hearts and full bellies, but consider starting your day off right with a little burn. Calorie burn that is. Pretty much wherever you are, you can find a road race (also popularly known as a “turkey trot”), and most are family friendly. A morning race can be a great way to burn some extra calories before you gobble down your afternoon feast. If you’re not up for the race crowds, find a quiet road for yourself, go for bike ride, or enjoy some fall foliage on a hike. Whatever floats your gravy boat. Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you to all of our service men and women and their families.
Dietary supplements aren’t approved or evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration before they are sold on the market. That means there is no way to know whether a product contains the exact ingredients listed on the label or any undisclosed ingredients unless it’s tested in a laboratory. In fact, some supplements have been found to contain dangerous ingredients and even ingredients not allowable in dietary supplements. So how do you know which supplements are safe to take? Watch this new video from Operation Supplement Safety about Decoding the Dietary Supplement Industry.
Fast food is often overloaded with calories, fat, and sodium, so it’s best to choose it less often and eat nutritious meals made at home or in the dining facilities. But juggling the demands of active-duty service, family, friends, and life in general can leave little time to shop, cook, and clean. Sometimes fast food might be your only option, so follow these tips to avoid the pitfalls:
- Make substitutions. Choose grilled chicken for your sandwich instead of fried chicken, and ask for a wheat bun. For your sides, trade in fries or onion rings for a side salad, fruit cup, or plain baked potato.
- Watch your toppings. Toppings such as bacon, cheese, and even sauces provide more fat and calories than you might realize. Skip these toppings and ask for extra veggies on your burger or sandwich. If you want a sauce, stick with ketchup or mustard.
- Go for greens. More and more restaurants offer salads as entrees, which is a great way to increase your veggie intake. But just beware of high-calorie additions such as bacon bits, croutons, fried tortilla strips, and creamy dressings. Instead, look for nutrient-rich toppings such as nuts, seeds, beans, fruit, and lean protein, and ask for a light dressing such as vinaigrette on the side.
- Keep your portion sizes small. Bigger portions mean more calories. Opt for the smallest size when it comes to burgers, fries, sodas, and desserts, and avoid value-sized meals. Doing so can save you a couple hundred calories or more! Check out this infographic on portion sizes to help you.
Fueling with fast food every day isn’t ideal, especially if you want to perform well. Just keep in mind that when you do eat it, making small changes such as these can have a big impact on your health.
Art therapy is one more tool in the arsenal against PTSD and similar disorders. It uses various forms of artwork and creativity to explore feelings, confront emotional conflicts, improve self-awareness, manage behaviors and addictions, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. Under the supervision of an experienced therapist, art therapy can improve general functioning, health, and well-being and can help in recovery from trauma.
Responses to traumatic experiences can include flashbacks and nightmares as your mind unconsciously tries to make sense of what happened. Art can be effective in helping your mind process, express, and even master traumatic experiences, because visual imagery can express what words can’t. Engaging in creative arts has been used specifically to help service members work through trauma. This kind of therapy involves working through your difficulties with a licensed therapist, but the same creative outlets can be great outside of therapy too. Find a craft or art that you find calming, enjoyable, and expressive. Engaging in the arts can be fun and therapeutic.
Children and teens face a lot of challenges these days, but exercise can help, even in such seemingly unrelated situations as bullying, a form of peer aggression. Bullying recently has come to the forefront as a public health concern. While the best solution is to prevent it, there are ways to cope and manage the effects of being bullied (such as depression, sadness, and decreased self-worth). Exercise can serve as a buffer against effects of being bullied. Bullied teens who regularly exercise at least 60 minutes a day, 4 days a week, are less likely to experience sadness or hopelessness. That’s important when you also consider that these feelings sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts among teens. Encouraging your child to participate in some kind of physical activity can help him or her conquer social obstacles while building good habits for a healthy adulthood. By also making physical activity a family matter, you can lead by example. Learn more about how to prevent bullying and consult a healthcare professional and a school counselor if you’re concerned that your child might be a victim of bullying.
Tart cherry juice might help soothe muscle pain after exercise, especially intense or long workouts. A few studies researched how drinking tart cherry juice affects muscle soreness and pain following different types of exercise. Participants drank tart cherry juice 5–7 days before exercise (such as running a marathon). Those who drank the tart cherry juice instead of the placebo experienced a decrease in intensity and duration of muscle pain, but these measurements weren’t consistent from study to study, and not all measures of muscle pain improved. However, tart cherry juice does contain anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Keep in mind that research participants drank 8–12 oz of tart cherry juice twice daily. Drinking that amount could add 260–390 calories per day to your diet, mostly from sugar. Too many calories and not enough exercise to balance it out can lead to weight gain. If you enjoy drinking tart cherry juice, then consider adding it to your nutrition plan. In addition to stretching and foam rolling after your workouts, it could help you experience less muscle soreness.
Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa korth) is marketed and regulated as a dietary supplement in the United States, yet this psychostimulant has numerous side effects. It’s a tropical tree in Malaysia and has been used as an herbal drug for years. However, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration says it is not approved for use in dietary supplements.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has an FAQ on kratom, which includes pertinent information from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Also visit other OPSS FAQs on various dietary supplement ingredients.
If you’re considering giving birth at home, make an informed choice, including a plan that lays out expenses, your nearest hospital, your delivery team, and more. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetrician and Gynecologists (ACOG) both say that hospitals and birthing centers are the safest places for birth in the U.S. However, they also recognize the right to make a medically informed decision about where and how to give birth. If you’re considering home birth, here are some specific suggestions to help you make safe decisions. Read more here.