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
Winter’s not over yet. The next month or more can bring anything from ice and sleet to “Snowmageddons” and polar vortexes. Winter weather can be dangerous for you, your family, and even your pets if you’re not prepared. In the event of an emergency you should know what to do to protect yourself and your loved ones. The National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health has compiled a list of resources that offer information, tips, and checklists for winter-weather emergencies and general cold-weather health. Stay warm, safe, and resilient!
For some injured Warfighters, achieving total fitness may include assistive technology (AT). Assistive technology is any physical equipment or system used to improve or help maintain the functional abilities of an individual. There are assistive technologies for almost every disability or injury, such as communication boards, both manual and electronic; technology for vision and hearing impairments (magnifiers, talking watches, hearing aids); tools to assist daily tasks (shower chair, adapted eating utensils); adaptive sports equipment (sit-skis, sport wheelchairs, recumbent tricycles); and technologies that enable mobility (from a cane or walker to sophisticated prosthetic legs and powered wheelchairs). Driving aids and fully equipped vans are other important assistive mobile technologies. Mobile assistive technology can promote independence and increased quality of life. Even phones and apps can be used as memory aids and organization- and time-management tools for helping with traumatic brain injury and psychological health. If you’re an injured Warfighter looking at the possibility of AT (or if you just want to know more), there are many things to consider when choosing the right AT for you, including:
- First and foremost, understand your own goals, priorities, and preferences and discuss them with your healthcare team. A person’s reaction to AT is both personal and complex. You must be closely involved in the choice of your assistive technology to ensure a “good match.”
- Consider where you will be using your assistive technology (indoors or outdoors).
- Consider how you will feel about using your equipment. AT equipment shouldn’t be embarrassing, inconvenient, or cumbersome.
- Have you accepted your challenge, and are you ready to move forward? Finding a "new normal" to accomplish your goals may include using assistive technology, but you must first embrace this concept.
For those who can benefit, AT can be a big piece of Human Performance Optimization (HPO), part of HPRC’s Total Force Fitness mission.
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!
Sweating is a normal, healthy response to exercise or to a hot environment—it’s our body’s way of regulating temperature. When sweat evaporates, it takes your body heat with it, which cools you down. But did you know that how soon you start sweating also indicates how fit you are? Fitter folks start sweating sooner, and sweat more, than the folks who are not as fit. It seems a conditioned body recognizes the change in environment (or circumstances) sooner responds more quickly than an unconditioned (less fit) one. While sweat isn’t generally a good indicator of how hard you’re working out, or the intensity of exercise, it may be a sign of how conditioned you are.
Note that, while men generally sweat more than women do, it doesn’t mean that men are more fit than women. Men and women even have the same number of sweat glands, but men’s sweat glands produce more sweat per gland.
So next time you find yourself changing out of a sweat-drenched shirt, be proud! You trained hard for that sweat!
It’s important to take the proper safety precautions prevent home fires. The U.S. Fire Administration has some simple but effective tips to prevent home fires and keep you and your family safe.
Getting an extra hour of sleep is a dream come true for many of us. For others, the end of Daylight Savings Time means an extra hour on the town or time to catch up on a to-do list. No matter how you choose to spend your extra hour, the amount of sunlight typically decreases over the following weeks, depending on where you are in the world. The change in daylight may influence your outdoors activities, so take this time to make a plan for how to remain active in the upcoming “dark days” of Standard Time.
Plan ahead for outdoor activities in the dark:
- If you jog or hike outdoors in the morning or evening hours, wear reflective or light-colored clothing to be easily visible.
- Plan your route ahead of time and let someone know when and where you will be exercising.
- Have a cell phone handy in case of emergencies.
- Be vigilant. A head-mounted flashlight can help you see holes and debris in your path to avoid sprains and injuries. Also beware of animals that might spook as you pass them in the dark.
- If you must wear earphones, only use one ear bud.
- Bring a buddy or pet!
Plan fun activities indoors:
- Move your exercise routine indoors. Whether in the gym or at home, there are plenty of ways to stay active. Try High Intensity Tactical Training (HITT) for a vigorous workout. Or take this time to give yoga a try or deepen your practice.
- Plan activities that get the entire family involved. Even if you don’t have a gaming console, you can try dancing, hula hoop, or a jump-rope contest. HPRC has more family fitness ideas you can try.
- Finally, think about how much sleep you usually get. Do you get the recommended seven to eight hours every night? This extra hour might be the jumpstart you need to begin prioritizing sleep. For more information on sleep tips, check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section.
As you read this article right now, your eyes are working harder than they would if you were reading a book or even watching TV. Attention, desk warriors! If you stare at a computer for most of the day, you could leave work experiencing dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. 90% of people who work on a computer experience symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. Symptoms include blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, eye strain, irritation, redness, and any number of other ocular symptoms.
Computers have become a necessity in our world, so monitors are here to stay. Here are some of the causes of CVS and some tips to help you protect your eyes from the screen:
- Blinking. One of the main symptoms of CVS is eye dryness. This occurs for two reasons: First, your eyes are focusing on the same depth of field for an extended period of time; second, unlike the non-stop action on a TV screen, there may be little movement happening on your computer screen. The lack of movement and constant field depth leads to less blinking and, therefore, eye dryness.
Fix it by spending 30 seconds every hour or so adjusting your eyes to something far away. If you work in a small office, put up a picture and focus on something small in the background. This change in depth of field will exercise your eyes, and you’ll blink more!
- Monitors. The pixels on a computer screen can cause some problems. Because they are not all the same brightness, they don’t produce the same contrast. And they can cause words or pictures on the screen to look fuzzy, straining your eyes and contributing to CVS.
Fix it by investing in a good LCD monitor if you have not done so already. LCD monitors reduce glare and contrast, as compared with older types of monitors. If you already have an LCD monitor, then talk to an ophthalmologist about getting some reading glasses to help reduce eye strain. Adjusting the lighting in the room and/or on your computer screen can also help soften the symptoms of CVS.
- Existing vision problems. You may already have a vision problem that went undiagnosed until you started staring at a computer. Extended computer use can exaggerate already existing eye conditions and lead to some of the symptoms of CVS.
Fix it by talking to a physician about corrective lenses. The Vision Center of Excellence has excellent resources from the VA and DoD for vision support.
In summary: Protect your eyes from CVS by taking frequent breaks from the computer, by blinking more often, and by making sure you work in an ergonomically efficient office setup. If you want to more information about CVS, check out “A Survival Guide to Computer Workstations.”
West Nile. Dengue. Malaria. Chikungunya. No, that’s not a typo. Chikungunya (pronounced “chik-en-gun-ye”), a mosquito-borne virus that primarily occurs in Africa, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent, and Warfighters deployed to these regions have been exposed to this risk for some time, now, however, it is reportedly spreading to Europe and the Americas. Most of the cases in the U.S. involve individuals who have recently traveled abroad, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just reported the first locally acquired case, in Florida.
The viral illness is characterized by fever and severe joint pain, but other symptoms include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, and rash. There is currently no antiviral drug for Chikungunya, and treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms. Most patients will recover fully on their own, although sometimes symptoms persist for several months.
It’s important to know your environment. If you’re being deployed to these regions or even going there on vacation, there are things you can do to protect yourself from mosquito bites and mosquito-borne infections. Wearing long pants, shirts with long sleeves, and insect repellent while outdoors reduces the chance of an insect bite. Other precautions include removing standing water from containers such as flowerpots and buckets and placing screens over open windows and doors.
If you think you could have been infected, you should see your doctor, especially if you have recently traveled to high-risk regions. Visit the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for more information about Chikungunya.
E-cigarettes were introduced to help people stop smoking, but they are becoming a popular alternative to traditional cigarettes. But are they really a healthier substitute, as many companies claim? In short, we don’t yet have a full answer to this important question, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on a mission to find out.
On April 25th, FDA released a proposal for new regulations on e-cigarettes—a multibillion-dollar industry that so far has not been highly regulated. In fact, FDA currently lacks the authority to collect vital information about these products. Traditional cigarettes deliver thousands of chemicals, many of which are dangerous, to cigarette smokers and non-smokers around them. By comparison, e-cigarettes deliver substantially fewer chemicals. However, little is known about the potential dangers of the chemicals that e-cigs deliver.
Proposed new rules would allow FDA to collect information about the ingredients in e-cigarettes, as well as their health and behavioral effects. It also suggests that more research is needed to study the long-term health effects of these products.
E-cigarettes are now being marketed with flavors popular among young people. Preliminary studies have found that young people who say they would never use a tobacco product are experimenting with e-cigarettes. The proposed new rules also would require e-cigarette users to be at least 18 years of age to purchase these products.
Although it’s still unclear how the popularity of e-cigarettes will impact public health, but it’s certain that more research will shed some light on their long-term effects.
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.