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
Exposure to a natural green environment can help reduce your stress levels and improve your health and well-being. So, feeling blue? Go green! Some of nature’s restorative benefits include improved positive mood, energy, and vitality; decreased anxiety, depressive thoughts, perceived stress, and hostility; as well as improved recovery times after surgery and less need for pain meds.
Exposure to nature can also reduce your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and stress hormones, as well as improve your sleep, immune function, and brain activity. Interestingly, people who live in neighborhoods where streets have more trees report feeling healthier, with fewer symptoms of poor health such as heart attack, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Neighborhood greenness has also been tied to longer life expectancy.
Depending on where you live, finding a natural environment can be tricky. You can find state and national parks online or look for local parks and gardens in your area. Even walking along a neighborhood street with lots of trees, spending more time viewing nature (through a window), or having indoor plants within view can make you feel better. You may want to experience nature on your own, with a buddy, or with a group of fellow service members or veterans. For group outdoor recreational activities, check out the Sierra Club Outdoors program (or, specifically, their Military Outdoors program). So if you’re feeling stressed, down, or not your usual self, get outside and go green!
Noise-related hearing loss is a tactical risk for individual warriors and unit effectiveness. Being able to hear well is crucial for effective communication and—perhaps more important—for survival. While the military has done extensive research and established standards regarding noise and noise exposure, there are a few things you can do to help minimize your risk of this occupational hazard.
- Wear hearing protectors when firing weapons or traveling in noisy vehicles or aircraft.
- Make sure that earplugs such combat arms earplugs (CAE) fit properly to protect your hearing but still communicate effectively.
- Replace lost or damaged hearing protectors as soon as possible.
- Limit exposure to “annoying noise” during normal daily activities. Trying to ignore noise can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause sleep problems and other negative health effects.
- Report any signs of hearing loss as soon as possible.
Hearing loss, including tinnitus, has become an "invisible" injury and an accepted outcome of military service. Blast injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), RPGs, and mortar rounds are the largest cause of hearing loss for forces in Iraq. Compensation payments for hearing loss as the primary disability increased 319% between 2001 and 2006. While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are treatments available.
The DoD Hearing Center of Excellence is committed to preventing, treating, and rehabilitating hearing loss and auditory injury for service members and veterans. HCE offers evidence-based clinical care in collaboration with other organizations and Centers of Excellence to improve quality of life for hearing-impaired service members and raise awareness about noise pollution and occupational safety.
Noise pollution may be an inevitable part of serving in the military, but it doesn’t have to leave you with a permanent reminder. Do what you can to help hold on to your hearing.
Sitting in front of a computer for hours can make your eyes tired, and your visual performance can suffer. To help with potential negative effects, create an environment that has equal brightness everywhere around your computer screen. Try these tips to help:
- Reduce intense fluorescent lights.
- Turn on some lights if you usually look at computer screens in the dark.
- Dim excess light coming through windows with blinds, tinting, or window covers.
- Avoid glare on your computer screen.
- Take microbreaks to look at distant objects.
If you’re in an office environment, if possible, turn off overhead lights and have a table lamp for softer light. If you can’t control the lighting in your environment, there are screens you can place on top of your computer screen to reduce glare. In a previous article, we highlighted how 30-second microbreaks every 20 minutes can ease physical discomfort and improve mental performance when working in front of a computer. Similar breaks also help reduce eye strain. Experts suggest looking at a distant object at least twice every hour to help prevent visual fatigue. So if you take a break every 20 minutes for brief stretching, make sure it also includes looking at a distant object to help both your eyes and body.
Training for flight in dynamic and high-acceleration aircraft requires both good cardiovascular health and anaerobic capabilities; part of well-rounded fitness! Have you heard the myth that all fighter pilots are short, stocky, and need high blood pressure? Not true, you too can develop good G-tolerance! Regular cardiovascular conditioning paired with strength-training programs will properly prepare you for flight under Gs. A strong lower body helps push blood upwards where you need it, in your heart and brain. Being aerobically fit gives you the endurance to keep pushing and not fatigue as quickly while doing the Anti-G Straining Maneuver (AGSM). AGSM is a two-component maneuver pilots perform under g-loads that involves breathing and muscle contractions to increase your blood pressure and maintain blood flow to your brain. Read more here.
Hypoxia, or insufficient oxygen supply to the body, is a stress factor associated with high altitude in aviation. It’s caused by low oxygen levels and decreases in partial pressure. Flight above 10,000 feet is dangerous and restricted without supplemental oxygen, and even the best oxygen and pressurization systems fail sometimes. Above 10,000 feet, an aviator’s “Time of Useful Consciousness” (TUC) begins; this means that you’re going to start having problems focusing, reacting, and making decisions. At 15,000 feet your TUC is around 30 minutes, at which point you’re more likely to be unconscious than not. At 22,000 feet it’s only 5–10 minutes, and by 28,000 feet it can be as fast as 3 minutes! Look out for these signs (what you can see in somebody else) and symptoms (what you can notice in your own body):
- Cyanosis (bluing of the fingertips or lips)
- Decreased reaction time
- Impaired judgment
- Unexplained happiness/euphoria
- Visual impairment
- Lightheaded or dizzy sensation
- Tingling in fingers and toes
If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, remember to find the emergency oxygen, use it, and land safely!
Decompression sickness (DCS), also known as “the bends,” is well known to occur in divers. However, it also can occur in aviation, especially when there is a sudden or unexpected loss of cabin pressure above 18,000 feet. DCS occurs when the dissolved gases inside the body come out of solution to form bubbles. As these bubbles move throughout the body, problems occur. There are different types of DCS, but here are some common symptoms to be aware of:
- Localized or deep pain in the large joints
- Itching or the sensation of insects crawling on your skin
- Memory loss
- Visual abnormalities
- Loss of balance or vertigo
- Dry, persistent cough
If you suspect DCS, first land safely as soon as you can. Treatment may involve breathing oxygen or time in a hyperbaric chamber. If you ever experience these symptoms after a loss of pressurization above 18,000 feet, contact your doctor or emergency room as soon as possible and report your recent exposure.
Have you heard the terms “resilience” and “Total Force Fitness,” but you’re not quite sure what they mean or where they fit into the health and performance picture? Read on.
Your health is the foundation. The 2010 article "Why Total Force Fitness?" states, “nothing works without health.” Health is not just physical and not just something to worry about when you’re sick. Health is a combination of physical, mental, spiritual, and social well-being and includes practices that promote wellness in addition to those that help you recover from sickness or injury.
Resilience is next. Resilience is the ability to bounce back—or even better, forward—and thrive after experiencing hardship. It is not the ability to completely withstand hardship but rather the ability to come back from it and grow stronger through the experience.
Next is human performance optimization (HPO). Unlike resilience, which typically requires the experience of hardship, HPO involves performing at your best for whatever goal or mission you have (whether that is your PT test, a combat mission, or raising children). It goes beyond simply resisting challenges; it means functioning at a new optimal level to face new challenges.
Health, resilience, and optimal performance are the foundations of Total Force Fitness, which is defined in the “Physical Fitness” chapter of “Total Force Fitness for the 21st Century” (see link above) as a “state in which the individual, family, and organization can sustain optimal well-being and performance under all conditions.” Being totally fit requires a holistic approach—that is, an approach that doesn’t focus on just one aspect alone such as nutrition or physical fitness, but on multiple domains of fitness. It means attending to your mind (including psychological, behavioral, spiritual, and social components) and your body (including physical, nutritional, medical and environmental components). In order to achieve Total Force Fitness, these factors come together to enhance your resilience and/or performance.
This is where HPRC can help you on your quest for total fitness. By visiting each of our domains—Physical Fitness, Environments, Nutrition, Dietary Supplements, Family & Relationships, and Mind Tactics—you can get evidence-based information on a variety of holistic topics to help you achieve and sustain total fitness. But remember that total fitness is a life-long process that will ebb and flow. And it isn’t just about you; your loved ones are an important piece of the picture, too.
For in-depth information, visit the Total Force Fitness Articles section of HPRC’s website.
A staggering number of Americans (approximately 36 million) have hearing loss, and one-third of those probably could have been prevented. Hearing loss continues to be a safety hazard for Warfighters at home and in the field. So how do we combat this not-so-silent epidemic? Here are a few tips to help you protect your hearing.
- Wear a hearing protective device (HPD). HPDs should be worn for noise levels at or above 85dB. Not sure what 85dB really means? Check out this guide to occupational noise levels. Also check out “How Loud is Too Loud?,” a graphic designed to inform Warfighters about how and when to choose the proper HPD for their jobs.
- Learn how to wear your HPD correctly. Even if you have the correct protection, it may not be effective if you’re not wearing it correctly.
- Always have disposable HPDs handy. Disposable HPDs are lightweight and easily portable. Make them a part of your everyday gear.
For more information about how to protect yourself against or to seek help for hearing loss check out the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence website or make an appointment with your local hearing loss treatment center.
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.”
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.