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HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment

Get to know HPRC better

Learn about all the areas HPRC covers and what “human performance optimization” is.

The Human Performance Resource Center is here to serve Warfighters and their families, commanders, and healthcare providers. If you’ve visited before, you probably know that we focus on “total force fitness.” But do you really know what that means—or how HPRC got started? If you’re curious, check out this PDF that describes HPRC, what we do, and the vast amount of information we cover. In addition, you may have noticed that we use the term “human performance optimization” throughout our site; this article also explains what that means.

Regaining a sense of touch

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Prosthetic limbs
Prosthetic arms are becoming more sophisticated—improving the quality of life for individuals with missing upper limbs. The only thing lacking is a sense of touch, but perhaps not for long.

Prosthetic limbs have come a long way in a short amount of time, mostly because of the number of service members coming back from deployments with traumatic injuries and with the demand for better technology. Advancements in prosthetic arms now include devices that can move and bend individual fingers and joints. However, a sense of touch is one remaining obstacle—but one that researchers are close to conquering.

Many patients with arm prosthetics describe the difficulty with grabbing objects because there is no feedback to the brain. For example, breaking dishes, bruising fruit by grabbing it too hard, and dropping slippery cans are all too likely without any sense of feeling in the hand.

Researchers are now developing a prosthetic limb—called the Modular Prosthetic Limb—that will close the loop between the brain and the prosthetic hand by adding various sensors to contact points such as the fingertips and joints. This will allow sensory feedback to the brain that gives the user enough “feeling” to distinguish between a wool sweater and a cold beverage, for example.

The Department of Defense is working with various universities such as Johns Hopkins and the University of Pittsburgh to develop this unique device and make it available to wounded warriors.

Is wicking apparel as “cool” as you think?

Clothing made from synthetic material is still popular in the sports apparel industry, with many manufacturers claiming that it improves heat regulation. That’s not what the science says, though.

Walk into any fitness center on base or take note of a group of soldiers training, and you’ll probably notice at least a few people in form-fitting synthetic t-shirts. The sports apparel industry has exploded in popularity over the past decade, with numerous manufacturers now competing to develop, market, and sell the newest pieces of clothing (shirts, shorts, underwear, socks), all geared to keep athletes cool while competing or training in hot environments. Is there any science behind these claims? Does tight-fitting clothing made of “high-tech” materials actually help with heat regulation and enhance athletic performance?

You heat up when you exercise, and sweating is the primary method your body uses to stay cool. Sweat evaporating off your skin is the most important method your body has to cool itself during exercise. High-tech materials are supposed to enhance “wicking”—the delivery of sweat away from the skin surface toward the clothing, which allows for evaporation—and limit the absorption of sweat by the clothing itself. Cotton, by contrast, absorbs moisture, so it’s not considered a good choice for exercise.

To date, there’s no evidence that this high-tech clothing improves thermoregulation when worn during exercise in hot environments. Specifically, researchers found no differences in heart rate or body and skin temperatures when subjects performed repeated 20–30 minute bouts of running outfitted in shorts, sneakers, and either a form-fitting compression or traditional cotton t-shirt. Research has also found that wicking sportswear had no effect on cooling when worn under a bulletproof vest or on a cycling sprint when worn under full ice hockey protective equipment. As of now, the best advice for staying cool during exercise in the heat is to wear lightweight clothing, stay properly hydrated, and listen to your body for signs of potential heat illness. For more information on performing in hot environments, please visit the “Heat” section of HPRC’s Environment domain.

Risks of activity at altitude

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Altitude affects what your body needs and how it responds, especially when it comes to exercise.

Performing physical activity—whether exercise or mission demands—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 lower, which results in less oxygen in the blood and muscle tissues. And as altitude increases, there’s 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. Use sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and watch out for the signs of acute mountain sickness: headache, nausea, shortness of breath, and impaired cognition and balance.

To learn more about altitude sickness, read the article “The Invisible Enemy of the Afghanistan Mountains” on the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) website. And learn more about performance at altitude in the Altitude section of HPRC's Environment domain.

Predicting acute mountain sickness

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Scientists suggest how likely you are to experience altitude sickness while at elevation.

With current and future military operations in mountainous regions, the issue of acute mountain sickness (AMS) is a significant medical concern. AMS can affect anyone, military or civilian, who is unacclimatized and/or ascends too rapidly to high altitudes. Symptoms of AMS can include headache, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and sleep disturbances. Recently, researchers at USARIEM were able to predict the severity and prevalence of AMS after rapid ascent to various altitudes. What they found was that for every thousand-meter increase in elevation over 2,000 m, a person was over four times more likely to develop AMS. In addition, the severity of sickness doubled, and the odds that the AMS would worsen increased almost five-fold. AMS appeared to peak at 18 to 22 hours of exposure to altitude and then went away after 42 to 48 hours. The severity of sickness is greatest above 4,000 meters and may require evacuation to lower altitude or immediate medical attention. It also appears that men are more likely than women to get AMS and more likely for it to be severe. For both men and women, the more active they were at altitude, the longer it took to recover. These findings support current recommendation to limit activity as much as possible in the first 24 hours at altitude to decrease the risk for AMS.

This information should help military leaders manage and perhaps prevent AMS among troops by knowing the elevation, types of activities, and lengths of stay at altitudes.

In order to reduce the risk for AMS, acclimate to moderate elevations (2,000 – 3,000 m) if/when possible. In addition, stay hydrated and try to limit your physical activity at altitude for the first 24 hours. Read more about the effects of altitude on performance and how to minimize your risk for AMS.

Can’t touch this!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Invasive species of plants may be growing in your back yard or along your ruck march. Know what to look for to prevent illness and injury.

Giant hogweed—no, it’s not an ingredient in one of Harry Potter’s potions; it’s a large poisonous plant that started to bloom in the northeast and northwest areas of the U.S. and parts of Canada earlier this month. If you’re out for a ruck march through the woods and you come across this plant, do not touch it. The sap can cause irritation and burns to your skin and perhaps blindness if it gets into your eyes. If you do happen to come in contact with it, be sure to wash your skin with soap and water and keep the area out of the sunlight for 48 hours. Giant hogweed can grow 14 feet or higher. It’s characterized by large leaves and white, umbrella-shaped flower clusters at the top of the plant. It may be difficult to distinguish from other non-poisonous plants such as cow parsnip, so err on the side of safety if you’re not sure. You can read more about identifying invasive species in your area from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Has your sunscreen expired?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Using sunscreen is important for protecting your skin against harmful UVA and UVB rays. But for best results, make sure your sunscreen has not expired.

Your sunscreen has an expiration date—have you checked it lately? It’s meant to last up to about three years; after that, the active ingredients start to deteriorate, making it less effective and leaving you vulnerable to sunburn and sun damage. Ideally, you should be using your sunscreen often enough that a 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 that has the expiration printed only on the box or wrapper, write the date somewhere on the bottle itself with a permanent marker. Practice safe sun this summer to keep you and your family healthy and happy!

Lyme disease: a “tick-ing” time bomb

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
If you plan on spending some time in the woods, whether it’s doing a PRT training run or taking a hike, consider taking some measure to protect against Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is a serious concern for those who spend a lot of time in heavily wooded areas and a especially for the DoD. It’s common in the United States and around the world and is caught from the bite of two different species of ticks—the deer tick and the western blacklegged tick.

After spending time in wooded or grassy areas, check yourself all over, including your back (enlist a friend or a mirror to help). The early removal of a tick that’s attached to you is key in preventing Lyme, since the tick must be attached for 24-48 hours in order to transmit the bacteria that cause this disease. Ohio State University conducted a study using different tick-removal tools and concluded that all three tools were effective—and confirmed that early removal is more important than the type of tool that is used. The Centers for Disease Control provides easy-to-follow tips on tick removal using just tweezers.

If you know you’ve been bitten by a tick, or begin to notice symptoms such as a bullseye rash (an early sign of Lyme infection) at a bite location, fatigue, chills, fever, muscle aches, or swollen lymph nodes, you should to see your doctor. Blood tests can be used to confirm whether the symptoms are from Lyme disease. If left untreated, more severe symptoms can occur, such as loss of muscle tone in the face (called Bell’s palsy), severe or shooting pain, and heart palpitations. A typical successful treatment includes a course of antibiotics, but there can still be lingering symptoms, called chronic or post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome. When it comes to Lyme disease, the best offense is a good defense. Some tips for prevention:

  1. Wear your military uniform properly. This can help to prevent tick bites since long pants, long sleeves, and pants that are tucked into boots minimize exposed skin.
  2. Use insect repellents such as DEET or Permethrin.
  3. If you are in a wooded area, avoid tall grasses and brush. If this isn’t possible then be sure to follow tips #4–7 below as you are able.
  4. Perform a thorough skin check—especially of the hair and base of the skull at the hairline.
  5. Shower within two hours of being outside. This can help wash off ticks that are still crawling on the skin.
  6. Examine gear and pets for hitchhiking ticks.
  7. If you have access to a dryer, put your clothes in it for an hour on high heat to kill any ticks.

If you are interested in more information on diseases and conditions that are spread by ticks, insects, or other pests, you can visit the Armed Forces Pest Management Board.

Tracking down snipers with smartphones

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
New smartphone technology may help Warfighters in combat track down snipers.

If you’re in the military, your smartphone may have just gotten smarter. Researchers have recently developed hardware and software that enables teams with Android smartphones to locate nearby snipers. Acoustic sensors have been developed and used by the military in the past, but this portable attachment hooks up to a smartphone and uses microphone sensors to triangulate a sniper’s location through muzzle blasts and shockwaves. Other sniper sensors have been developed, such as the helmet-mounted sensor back in 2007 that is the predecessor to this smartphone system. According to one source, the Army has plans to send soldiers to Afghanistan with smartphone technology that will allow them to communicate—even text—more effectively out in the field. As smartphones find their way into combat, this kind of technology shows great promise for the near future.

Introducing Operation Live Well – a DoD health campaign

Filed under: DoD, Health, Wellness
DoD’s new Operation Live Well campaign is designed to make healthy living an easy option for service members.

Operation Live Well is a new wellness campaign by the Department of Defense that aims to make healthy living the easy choice and the norm for service members, retirees, DoD civilians, and their families. They point out resources for how to eat better, stay physically active, quit or avoid tobacco, and stay mentally fit. The educational, outreach, and behavior-change initiatives provide tools and resources to help you learn about healthy lifestyles. You’ll also be able to develop your own personalized health plan via the Operation Live Well website soon.

A second part of Operation Live Well is their Healthy Base Initiative (HBI), which aims to help the defense community reach or maintain a healthy weight and avoid tobacco use. Scheduled for launch during the summer of 2013 at 13 military installations and DoD sites worldwide, HBI will offer a range of installation-tailored, health-related programs that will be measured for their effectiveness. The programs that are most successful will eventually be expanded to other installations.

For more information on Operation Live Well, visit militaryonesource.mil/olw.

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