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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.

Injury prevention: How to avoid “text neck”

Don’t let your phone be a pain in the neck.

Look around you. How many people do you see looking down at their smartphones? Are you reading this article on your phone or tablet? Most people look down at their phones while reading or texting. The problem with this posture it can be a major pain in the neck—literally. Doctors and researchers are calling it “text neck,” and they’re saying that this poor posture while looking at your phone is causing early wear and tear to the spine. The human head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds. Looking straight ahead doesn’t add any strain to your spine, but as you tilt your head forward, the weight of your head begins to increase the strain on your neck and spine. Even a slight, 15-degree angle increases the weight on your spine to 27 pounds. Looking down at 60 degrees? That’s about 60 pounds. Think about carrying a couple of 30-pound ammo cans around your neck for several hours a day.

To limit your risk for text neck, look down at your device with your eyes, not your head. Better yet, hold your device up to eye level. Be aware of your posture and try adding daily exercises that strengthen your back, neck, and shoulders.

The mind-body ABCs: Three steps to awareness

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Learning to develop an awareness of your thoughts and how they interact with your emotions —for improved performance—may seem easy as ABC, but like other skills, it takes practice! Learn the ABCs of performance.

If you’ve ever gotten up to speak in front of a crowd or waited to take a test, you’re already aware of how your thoughts, bodily sensations, and emotions can overcome you if you’re not aware of them or if you try to erase them. These are obvious examples, but this “mind-body interaction” is at work all the time, often in subtle ways. Thoughts can impact your emotions, how you feel physically, and even how you behave.

Here’s an example: You test for the APRT on a day when you’re sick and score worse than your previous time. You could possibly think, “I stink,” and feel defeated and worse than you did before the test, subsequently putting less effort into the next one. Or you could think, “Not bad for being sick; let’s see what I’m made of next time!” and likely feel excited and more energized to put in necessary training. The list of possible thoughts in response to this event is endless, and each thought has a different emotion, body feeling, and behavior attached to it.

When you’re not aware of what your internal experiences are to begin with, thoughts, moods, signals from your body, and your behavior can come together to form the “perfect storm” of stress, which can impact immediate and future performances. By being aware of each thought, mood, sensation, and behavior, you can slow the storm down and have more influence over what you do and how you perform. Avoid running on autopilot.

The “Mind-Body ABCs” is a technique that can help. Pay attention to some situations where performance matters, and log the following:

“A” stands for Activating Event—the event or situation you’re currently in (or looking at afterwards) that triggers subtle responses from your mind and body.

“B” represents Belief—your thoughts about that situation. Imagine yourself as a cartoon in the Sunday comics with a thought bubble over your head. Your “belief” about the situation you’re in is represented by what’s written or drawn in the bubble.

“C” is for Consequences—how your thoughts affect your mood, body sensations, and behaviors. Notice the specific emotion you’re feeling (such as fear, anger, or even happiness), what’s happening in your body (such as butterflies, tensing up, or letting go), and what you feel pulled to do (such as hiding from the situation, arguing, or giving your best effort).

For each ABC, try to tune into one Activating event, one Belief, and a short list of Consequences (emotions, body feelings, and behaviors). Rather than trying to log all this in your head, use HPRC’s new Mind-Body ABCs Worksheet or make a similar chart in a journal and practice tracking your own ABCs (and alternative responses to the same A) every day. 

Retrain your brain: Mindful eating for the holidays

Filed under: Diet, Holidays, Nutrition
Mindful eating can help you relish in holiday meals without overindulging.

The holiday season is in full swing, which means an abundance of family feasts and holiday parties. But you can keep your nutrition in check and still eat balanced meals and snacks by practicing “mindful eating,” a form of mindfulness.

Mindful eating allows you to embrace food, nourish your body, and feel satisfied without overindulging. It means being more aware of your eating habits, eating cues, and sensations. When you eat mindfully, you learn to savor every aspect of your meal with all of your senses and become more conscious of your feelings of fullness. And while mindful eating isn’t a diet, it has been found to help with portion control and weight loss.

Try these mindful eating exercises before, during, and after your holiday get-togethers:

1)    Recognize your feelings of hunger and fullness. Try to understand the reason you want to eat. Is it true physical hunger? Or do you tend to eat when your emotions are running high, such as when you’re stressed? Perhaps you saw or smelled something delicious, and all of a sudden your stomach is rumbling. Eat when you’re hungry. Don’t skip a meal just because you have a holiday party later in the day. If you wait until you’re starving, you might end up eating more than two meals’ worth. After you’ve had your first helping of food, wait about 10–20 minutes to determine if you’re still hungry or if you feel satisfied.

2)    Savor your food. You can have your pumpkin pie and eat it too. Even calorie-rich foods can be eaten mindfully. First choose a sensible portion size. Then eat slowly, chew your food thoroughly, and put your fork down between each bite. Enjoy every taste, texture, smell, and sight of your food. Mindful eating also teaches us not to be judgmental about our food choices—there is no right or wrong way to eat!

3)    Anticipate distractions and come prepared. People tend to eat more during social gatherings because there are more distractions and a greater number of food options. Be mindful of how your food choices nourish your body and support your health and well-being.

You can achieve healthy holidays by sticking to your eating plan and enjoying it too. All you have to do is retrain your brain!

Celebrate the Army National Guard!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Army, National Guard
On December 13, the National Guard will be celebrating its 378th birthday! That’s right—378 years since founding.

The Army National Guard actually counts 1636 as its founding year, which makes it significantly older than the United States itself. The Massachusetts Bay Colony formed three permanent militia regiments to provide organized defense of the colony; the date of the General Court order was December 13. These regiments still exist as the Massachusetts Army National Guard, now as four units: the 101st Engineer Battalion, the 101st Field Artillery Regiment, the 181st Infantry Regiment, and the 182nd Infantry Regiment.

As colonies developed along the eastern shores and then inland, they formed their individual militia and organized themselves along regimental lines. After the formation of the U.S., militia were organized by the individual states; for much of the 19th century, the U.S. had no national standing army. The name “National Guard” was originally adopted by the 2nd Battalion, 11th New York Artillery, during the War of 1812, in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette of the French National Guard. The name was officially adopted for all state militia with the Militia Act of 1903. In 1933, the state militia joined the National Guard of the United States, a reserve force of the U.S. Army.

So how is it that the Army National Guard can be older than the U.S. Army? Our founding fathers saw fit to recognize the contributions of the states’ militia when they passed the Militia Act of May 8, 1792, which enabled pre-existing militia units to retain their “customary privileges.” Subsequent acts of Congress have perpetuated this.

Militia units have participated in every U.S. military action since 1636, including the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and now into the 21st. National Guard units also participate in domestic peacekeeping activities and assist with the aftermath of natural disasters. So on December 13, take a moment to learn more about what our Army National Guard is up to by visiting the Guard News and Overseas Operations pages on the National Guard website.

A Mother’s Plea

Watch HPRC’s new Operation Supplement Safety Public Service Announcement from a Gold Star mother.

In a new Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) PSA video, Gold Star mother Ms. Terri Bellamy-Coleman urges service members to seek out information and guidance on dietary supplements from the appropriate sources before taking them. Ms. Bellamy-Coleman’s son, who was attending the NCO (Noncommissioned Officer Academy, WLC (Warrior Leadership Course) in Fort Benning, GA at the time of his death, had been taking dietary supplements when he exerted himself during physical training, suffered a heart arrhythmia, and died. He had the sickle-cell trait, which may have aggravated the situation. She wants others to be aware of the possible risks associated with dietary supplements, especially when certain medical conditions are present, and urges service members to seek information to help prevent possible harmful health effects. Please watch the video, “A Mother’s Plea."

Build a better team

Group “cohesiveness” can contribute to Warfighter success. Learn how groups can establish and foster it.

There are so many parts to being successful in theater that it can be tough to pinpoint what contributes to success. But research has established one part—cohesiveness—that does help Warfighter performance. In fact, cohesiveness—a group’s ability to remain united while pursuing its goals and objectives—is an important piece of the puzzle for any successful group, whether we’re talking about sports teams, squads, platoons, or other kinds.

Cohesiveness can be social (among people who like each other) or task-focused (among people who work well together) or both. In groups such as athletic teams, connecting with a task focus is far more important for performance than connecting socially. Connecting through a task focus is clearly important for Warfighters too, but the stakes are higher: Warfighters often put their lives—not the outcome of a game—in each other’s hands. And cohesiveness has other benefits, such as helping with job satisfaction and overall well-being.

In order to build and maintain team/unit cohesion, experts suggest the following:

  • Use influence effectively—for collective gain, not individual gain.
  • Communicate clearly—give clear expectations for roles, performance, and deadlines, and offer praise.
  • Minimize conflict between unit members.
  • Build trust within the unit and with leadership by showing interest and concern for one another.
  • Establish a positive command climate that supports teamwork yet allows for each member’s independence.
  • Have a shared sense of responsibility for the overall welfare of everyone in the unit and the team as a whole.
  • Value connections within the team as well as between units and organizations.
  • Focus on the strengths of the group, not just its problems and challenges.
  • Build resilience at the individual and group level.

Warfighters and leaders can shape norms—both formally through policy and informally through practice—so that units/groups stick together on multiple levels. For more information on building relationships visit HPRC’s Family & Relationships domain, and for more information about Total Force Fitness check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.

Vegetarian diets—go for greens!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Learn more about vegetarian diets and how they fit into a healthy lifestyle, even in the military.

There are various types of vegetarian diets, all of which exclude meat, while some also exclude fish, poultry, and other animal products. Although fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, many of them are short on certain nutrients (such as protein). Being a vegetarian in the military can be challenging, but with proper planning—beginning with the right information from HPRC’s "Vegetarian diets - the basics"—a vegetarian diet can meet all of your nutritional needs.

Not only can plant-based diets be nutritionally complete, they also tend to be high in fiber and low in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Thus, vegetarian diets offer a wealth of health benefits, including decreased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. As an added bonus, many vegetarian food options are considered “Green” foods under the Go for Green® program, which means you can eat these foods at every meal. Just be mindful of the amount of canned, fried, or dried (with added sugars) items you choose.

For more information on vegetarian diets, and for recipe ideas, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Vegetarian Nutrition web page and the MyPlate Tips for Vegetarians.

Dare to face your fears

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Who wouldn’t want to feel confident in the face of whatever scares them?

Facing your fears with confidence looks easy in the movies. In reality, though, we often feel confident after we face the things that scare us. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a new form of “mindfulness” skills-based counseling that has been shaking up traditional therapy and self-help. With ACT, you face the hard stuff and then feel less anxious (not the other way around). ACT can help people move forward—both those with diagnoses and those dealing with more generalized anxiety. ACT teaches us that we can DARE to face our FEARs.

“FEAR” keeps us stuck:

  • Fusion is about letting thoughts rule behaviors (such as “I can’t do it”).
  • Extreme goals mean chasing impossible ideas (such as aiming to do a triathlon when you can’t run five miles yet and don’t have time to train).
  • Avoiding discomfort is waiting till the time “feels right” before you start moving forward.
  • Removed from values means you aren’t identifying what’s really important to you.

But we can “DARE” to move forward:

  • Defuse. Allow yourself to take thoughts less seriously; they’re just thoughts, not facts.
  • Accept discomfort. Let uncomfortable feelings exist while still doing what’s important.
  • Realistic goals. Set out to do things that are within your control (such as running three miles today and four by next week).
  • Embrace values. Ask yourself big-picture questions about what’s really important to you, and let your answers drive your behavior (such as “I finish what I start”).

HPRC’s articles about taking charge or accepting thoughts and SMART goal setting might give you more ideas about how you can DARE to face your FEARs.

Can I take weight-loss prescription medications?

What are the service-specific policies on weight-loss prescription medications? Read more to find out.

Weight-loss (diet) prescription medications are generally not permitted, but it’s important to check your service’s policy for specific conditions that may exist. Read this OPSS FAQ to find out more details, including links to specific policies. Also, be sure to check the OPSS site often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and bodybuilding supplements and how to choose supplements safely.

If you have a question about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, please use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

Running indoors versus outdoors—does it matter?

Have you ever wondered whether it’s better to run on a treadmill or outdoors? You’re not alone. Read on to learn the answer.

Training on a treadmill versus running outside – is there a difference, besides the scenery? Is one better than the other? These are frequently asked questions in the running world, especially when the weather makes outdoor running a challenge. Researchers provide a short answer: Training on the treadmill and “overground” running are not the same.

If you’ve experienced treadmill running and find yourself more tired afterwards than you would on an outdoor run, you’re not alone. Studies have found that athletes actually run slower on a treadmill than their normal pace outside, although they perceive treadmill running as being more exhausting. In other words, even though it feels more difficult, treadmill running is usually less intense and less physically challenging than running outdoors.

However, running indoors can be helpful if you’re recovering from an injury since running on a treadmill is easier on your joints than running outside on concrete or even grass.

Bottom line up front, you do run differently on a treadmill than you do outside, even if you don’t realize it. If you’re training for an outdoor race, ideally you should run most of your training miles outside. When you want to or need to run indoors on a treadmill, set the incline at 1–2% to increase your exertion level to more closely replicate your outdoor runs.

If you do decide to run outside during a cold spell, take a look at our article with tips for staying safe and the many resources where you can find more ways to keep warm and hydrated even in frigid weather. Remember: Whether you stay in or venture out, any exercise is better than none!

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