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.
HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment
Healthy environments create high-performing teams, which makes a big difference in how productive and fulfilled Warfighters feel on a daily basis. Winning teams don’t happen by chance. As leaders, parents, and partners, there are a few ways you can work toward building strong, cohesive, and effective teams at home or in uniform.
One of the most basic building blocks of good teams is a sense of trust and dependability among its members. High-quality connections with others at work and home can be cultivated by creating forums for open, honest, and assertive communication (about both the positive and negative). Encourage transparency and frequent communication about issues that impact daily operations. And remember that communication styles vary from person to person.
Although teams and families operate in units, find ways to identify and support individual strengths and attributes. Individual traits can help build or break down a team. Be proactive about getting to know what each person brings to the table and provide opportunities for them to utilize their strengths.
Create uniform standards of respect among teammates and family members to help boost healthy team environments too. When you identify negative dynamics within your group, openly address them and hold everyone accountable to the same expectations. Be on the lookout for group aggression and hazing. Although some people believe that these behaviors can lead to increased group identification, they actually can tear down morale and cohesion.
The teams that work within our Armed Forces are constantly in a state of flux. Crafting healthy team environments can create stability and security amid an ever-changing military landscape.
Poor oral health adversely affects readiness and could cost you your career, but it’s something you can prevent. Despite advances in dental care and hygiene, deployed service members are still at risk of trench mouth—technically referred to as necrotizing periodontal disease (NPD). This condition can lead to painful ulcers, spontaneous gum bleeding, and a foul taste in your mouth.
The good news is there are things you can do to reduce your risk of trench mouth. Learn how to be proactive and prevent NPD. And schedule regular visits to your dentist when possible.
- Poor hygiene.
- You might have little to no time for oral hygiene when you’re deployed, which can cause you to fall out of your normal routine of brushing and flossing.
- Solution: Pack a few travel-size tubes of toothpaste, dental floss, and a travel toothbrush in your kit, and establish a routine as quickly as possible.
- Tobacco use.
- Using tobacco products can lead to gum disease by reducing blood flow to your gums, which can lead to tooth loss and mouth infections.
- Solution: It’s never too late to quit. Check out these great tips to become tobacco-free.
- Poor nutrition.
- Eating right can be challenging in the field. But not eating enough food or the right foods can cause vitamin and mineral deficiencies that reduce your ability to fight oral infections.
- Solution: Although MREs can’t replicate the tastes of a home-cooked meal, they’re nutritionally balanced to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Eat a variety of MREs and as many of the components as you can to make sure you get all the nutrients they provide.
- Too much stress can adversely affect your performance and overall health, including dental health. Stress can cause dry mouth and sore, inflamed gums.
- Solution: Check out HPRC’s Stress Management section for ways to manage your stress. While activities like yoga, meditation, or journaling are very calming, try exercise, reading, or playing card games to help reduce stress too.
Time spent with smartphones, tablets, and computers can impact your ability to get healthy sleep. The primary culprit is exposure to blue light that’s emitted from all electronic devices. Using them at night can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm and suppress the secretion of melatonin, a powerful sleep hormone. When your eyes are exposed to artificial light, you might feel more awake when you should be getting ready to wind down. Try these tips to minimize the impact of blue light:
- Set a “2-hour” rule. Turn off handheld devices and televisions at least 2 hours before bedtime. And dim the lights at home. Try to avoid lying in bed and scrolling social media and email before bedtime too. If you happen to read something stress-inducing or upsetting, your day might end on a negative note. Try reading a book, journaling, or reflecting on something you feel grateful for instead.
- Block the blue. If you can’t avoid electronic devices before bed, some tools can help offset blue-light exposure. Many mobile devices come equipped with blue-light reducing functions already installed. You also can purchase blue-light blocking glasses with amber lenses. Or download software that adjusts the light on your screen, depending on the time of day and your location.
- Use light wisely. Not all light exposure is bad. Head outside into real sunlight, especially when it’s early, so you can sleep better at night. Leverage blue-light exposure appropriately during the day, if possible. It can boost your energy and readiness, increase alertness, and enhance cognitive function and mood.
Screens and devices are unavoidable. Still, they’re often an important part of daily life. Understanding their effects on sleep can help you choose how and when to make best use of technology. To learn more about blue-light exposure, visit the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) web page.
It can be extra challenging to get outdoors and exercise in the winter. But don’t let cold temperatures freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to help you “weather” the winter weather!
- Dress in layers. Choose synthetic materials such as polyester or polypropylene that stay close to the skin. Avoid cotton since it soaks up sweat! You always can remove layers as you get warmer.
- Warm up. Take a few minutes and do a dynamic warm up before you head outdoors. This will help warm up your muscles and body, so it might feel like less of a shock when you step outside.
- Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather. Chemical heat warmers also can help keep your hands and feet warm.
- Check the forecast. Wind chill, snow, and rain can make your body more vulnerable to the outside temperatures. Plan an indoor workout when the wind chill is extreme (negative numbers) or the temperature drops below 0°F. You’re at risk of hypothermia and frostbite if you’re not properly prepared.
- Be visible. With fewer hours of sunlight in the winter months, you might be walking or running when it’s dark out—even at dusk and dawn. Wear reflective gear or a headlamp to stay visible to oncoming traffic.
- Apply sunblock. You can still get sunburned in the winter, so don’t forget the sunscreen!
- Stay hydrated. When exercising in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to indicate hydration since you usually don’t feel as thirsty in cold temperatures. You need to stay just as hydrated in cold weather as you do when it’s hot outside.
- Ask your doctor. Certain symptoms might worsen in cold weather if you have asthma, heart issues, or Raynaud’s disease (when specific body parts feel numb due to cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.
Food waste is a massive problem in the U.S. Billions of dollars’ worth is wasted each year—about 20 pounds of food per person each month. But there are strategies you can use to help save valuable food resources. Food waste happens along the food chain: from the farm, during transport to grocery stores and commissaries, at retail stores and food service operations, and in your home.
Military communities are working to address food waste by ordering only what’s needed, carefully planning meals, and avoiding waste through reduction and composting. In addition, many commissaries have food donation programs for items that can’t be sold but are still safe to eat. Try to do your share at home too. Read more...
Winter weather can be dangerous for you, your family, and even your pets if you’re not prepared. The next few months might bring anything from ice and sleet to “Snowmageddons” and sub-zero temperatures. In the event of a cold-weather emergency you should know what to do to protect yourself and those around you. The National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health has compiled a list of resources with information, tips, and checklists for winter-weather emergencies and general cold-weather health. And of course, check out the “Cold” section of HPRC’s Environment domain. Stay warm, safe, and resilient!
Compression garments come in a variety of sleeves, socks, shorts, and full-body suits. The amount of pressure, or compression, they provide depends on the type and size of the garment. Compression garments help push blood toward your heart and prevent it from “pooling” or collecting in the compressed areas. Compression sleeves also are used in clinical settings for those with lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.
But can they increase your performance and decrease your recovery times? Compression garments have been shown to help blood flow to working muscles during exercise, but that necessarily doesn’t translate to better performance. Most studies look at compression socks during running, and most evidence suggests no difference in athletes’ performance levels during runs when compared to those not wearing compression socks. In addition, there’s no decrease in recovery time or blood-lactate levels.
Still, those wearing compression socks report “feeling better” and “less tiredness” in their legs during their runs. They also feel less sore following the exercise bout. And while there might not be an actual benefit of wearing compression gear, if you feel better wearing it—either during or after exercise—then keep doing what works!
Swimmers and free divers who hyperventilate before holding their breath for long periods underwater are at risk of hypoxic blackout—loss of consciousness—that can result in brain damage and death. (It sometimes is known as “shallow water blackout,” but this can be confusing because there are other causes of “shallow water blackout.”)
Hypoxic blackout often affects skilled, fit, and competitive swimmers and free divers. They practice breath holding or hypoxic training in water to increase their ability to hold their breath for longer periods of time. But depending on the technique, this can be a dangerous practice.
Breathing is a process of exhaling carbon dioxide (CO2) and inhaling oxygen. The actual urge to breathe is caused by a buildup of CO2 within your lungs. If you simply try to hold your breath underwater, the physiological urge to breathe will eventually take over so there isn’t a significant risk of “passing out.” However, some swimmers and free divers have found that if they hyperventilate before diving into the water —either by rapid breathing or taking deeper breaths—they can hold their breath for longer periods of time. It’s the act of hyperventilating that can be deadly.
When you hyperventilate before underwater swimming, the amount of CO2 is reduced in your lungs and the urge to breathe is diminished. Without warning, you can lose consciousness—at which point a breath is forced and water fills your lungs. Unless rescue is immediate, brain damage and death are likely outcomes.
Training with instructors and a skilled free-dive or swimming community will help reduce your risk of tragic accidents. In addition, there are other things you can do to avoid hypoxic blackouts.
- Don’t hyperventilate before underwater swimming.
- Never swim alone.
- Don’t ignore the urge to breathe underwater.
Altitude affects what your body needs and how it responds, especially when it comes to exercise. Acute mountain sickness (AMS)—caused by dry air, a decrease in oxygen, and low barometric pressure—can severely impact your health and performance. The good news is there are things you can do to help reduce your risk of altitude sickness.
Performing physical activity—whether you’re at the gym or on a mission—at moderate (4,000–7,900 ft or 1,200–2,400 m) and high (7,900–13,000 ft or 2,400–4,000 m) altitudes can be challenging. At high altitude, oxygen pressure is significantly lower, which results in less oxygen in the blood and muscle tissues. And as altitude increases, there’s also a decrease in air temperature (about 2°F for every 500 ft or 150 m), less moisture (resulting in drier air), and increased solar radiation. AMS can affect anyone who is unacclimatized and ascends too rapidly to high altitudes. Symptoms can include headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, vomiting, sleep problems, shortness of breath, dehydration, and impaired cognition and balance.
The risk and severity of altitude sickness are greater above 4,000 meters, and treatment might require evacuation to lower altitude or immediate medical attention. To reduce your risk of AMS, wear sunscreen, drink water, and try to limit your physical activity at altitude for the first 24 hours. Acclimate to moderate elevations (2,000–3,000 m), if possible.
With current and future military operations in mountainous regions, the issue of AMS is a serious concern. However, leaders can help manage and perhaps prevent AMS among Warfighters by being aware of the elevation, types of activities, and lengths of stay at altitudes. Visit HPRC’s Altitude section to learn more about performance at altitude.
Take note: Your sunscreen—important for protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays—has an expiration date! Just as you wouldn’t expect to feel well after eating expired food, don’t rely on expired sunscreen to protect you from the sun.
Sunscreen can be effective for up to 3 years. After that, its active ingredients start to deteriorate, leaving you vulnerable to sunburn and sun damage. Ideally, you should use sunscreen often enough that your bottle doesn’t last through the summer. If that’s not the case, check the bottle you’re currently using. If it’s old, throw it out.
If you buy sunscreen with the expiration printed only on the box or wrapper, use a permanent marker to write the date somewhere on the bottle. And store it in a cool, dry place. Practice safe sun this summer to keep your family healthy and happy!