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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.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment

E-cigarettes spark new research

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes sweeping new regulations on the multibillion-dollar e-cigarette industry and has asked for more research on the long-term health effects of these products.

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.

How does air pollution affect physical performance?

It is known that exposure to air pollutants during exercise may affect your health and performance, but what can you do about it?

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.

Practice safe sun

Skin cancer rates have reached epidemic proportions. Stay safe this summer whether you are walking the dog, mountain climbing, or training for the next PRT.

More than two million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, and the number is growing. Skin cancer is a major public health issue, and with proper precautions you can decrease your risk considerably. Hopefully this information on sun safety will help you, whether you are a Warfighter or dependent, stay safe during all outdoor activities!

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has been identified as the most important risk factor for both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Exposure to UVR weakens the skin’s elasticity and can result in sagging cheeks, deeper facial wrinkles, skin discoloration, burn, skin aging, photosensitivity, and cancer. Taking steps to safeguard yourself is crucial, especially when participating in outdoor activities or exercising.

Sweating increases the skin’s sensitivity to the sun’s rays, magnifying the risk of sunburn and skin damage. Athletes who practice outdoor sports have been found to be at increased risk for skin cancer. Remember—the weather does not have to be sunny and hot for you to get sun damage. Ultraviolet rays penetrate clouds, exposing you to 80% of the UVR. Even skiers and mountain climbers are at risk for sun exposure and skin cancer because of the stronger UVR at altitude.

Follow these precautions from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) whether training for the PRT, patrolling, road marching, or participating in a summer league softball game:

Avoid burning. Avoid sun tanning. Also, try to avoid sun exposure during midday (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) when the rays are the strongest.

Seek shade. When possible, especially during midday, seek shade under a tree or tent.

Cover up. Wear protective clothing, including hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants when going outdoors. Keep in mind protection decreases when clothes are wet.

Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand. Ultraviolet rays can reflect off of these surfaces, which can increase your chance of sun exposure and skin damage.

Apply sunscreen. Use water-resistant sunscreen and apply 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure to allow for it to absorb. Also, reapply after swimming, sweating, or toweling off. 

Wear sunglasses. Protect your eyes when working, driving, participating in sports, taking a walk, or running an errand. Solar ultraviolet B radiation can cause an increased risk of cataracts and cancer of the skin around the eye without proper cover.

It’s always important to remember hydration when engaging in outdoor activities as well! HPRC has useful tips on hydration and the consumption of sports drinks and caffeine during exercise in the heat.

What is “Total Force Fitness”?

Do you know what “Total Force Fitness” is? It’s a Department of Defense model for building and maintaining health, wellness, and resilience.

Have you heard of Total Force Fitness, but you aren’t sure what it is? It’s a framework for building and maintaining health, readiness, and performance in the Department of Defense. It views health, wellness, and resilience as a holistic concept that recognizes “total fitness” as a “state in which the individual, family and organization can sustain optimal well-being and performance under all conditions”—a connection between mind, body, spirit, and family/social relationships. Total fitness shifts the perspective from treatment to wellness and focuses on prevention and strengths.

The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury created a slide presentation for units and groups on Total Force Fitness: A Brief Overview that describes what TFF is, its core components, and each of its eight “domains” (behavioral, social, physical, environmental, medical and dental, spiritual, nutritional, and psychological). For more in-depth reading, check out the original Military Medicine Supplement that started it all, including a scholarly chapter for each domain.

Antibacterial soaps – beneficial or not?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Hygiene, Risks
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to revise their guidelines for the use and production of antibacterial soaps

The word “antibacterial” is all too familiar to 21st-century consumers. Soaps and cleaning products that tout “antibacterial” or “kills germs” in large print seem to be everywhere. So it may surprise you to learn that recent studies suggest the use of antibacterial soaps may not be as beneficial as once thought. Research now shows that overuse of these soaps contributes to antibiotic resistance, which makes bacteria stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment—a potentially major problem in combat zones and hospitals. In addition, recent animal studies have shown that triclosan, the most common active ingredient in antibacterial soaps, may alter the way hormones work in the body. While these soaps are sometimes necessary in hospital settings, scientists caution against using them in our everyday lives.

FDA will now require that over-the-counter antibacterial soaps must prove that their benefit to a consumer’s health is greater than the current risk for harm to the user and the environment. Manufacturers of over-the-counter antibacterial soaps will be given until December 16, 2014, to provide this evidence or FDA will ban their products.

The ban will not affect hand sanitizers and soaps used in hospital settings. To learn more about the proposed ban of antibacterial soaps, read the FDA consumer update.

A holistic approach to performance

Check out the customizable “One Shot One Kill” (OSOK) performance enhancement program to jumpstart your performance.

Wanting some holistic strategies to enhance your performance? Check out the “One Shot One Kill (OSOK) Performance Enhancement Program” that shows Warfighters how to set up and manage their own performance-enhancement system. OSOK is designed not only to enhance performance but also to jumpstart Warfighter resilience. It builds on the skills that Warfighters already possess and then teaches new ones as needed.

There are two ways you can use OSOK: as an individual through “OSOK Solo” and as a unit/group through “OSOK-IP Unit.” Both highlight “10 Rules of Engagement” and provide seven core modules: Controlled Response, Mind Tactics, Performance-Based Nutrition, Primal Fitness, Purpose, Code, and Recharge. OSOK also provides self-assessment forms so you can track your progress over time.

For other performance-enhancement programs and information about holistic (total) fitness, check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.

Sub terra firma

Combat training is moving underground. New tactics—and, potentially, new doctrine—are being developed to help troops perform in underground environments where enemies could hide.

The U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group has been training joint forces in some unusual places—underground venues such as tunnels, caves, and sewers. As battlefields become more urban and enemies move underground, subterranean environments pose unique operational challenges. Although the Army does not currently have an official field manual for underground combat, this new tactical training has developed units’ ability to perform in these environments. Combat training centers are starting to integrate these kinds of complex environments into their facilities, and the Army is urging home-station training to “get creative” and use simple techniques to simulate their own underground environments. Something as simple as training in a dark room with obstacles can simulate underground areas. Israeli Defense Forces have also had success with this type of training. Being able to adapt and perform in challenging environments is a vital part of warrior resilience.

One small step for man, one giant leap for lower-limb amputees

Thought-controlled bionic technology previously only available for arms now exists for legs. The once-farfetched idea of a bionic man is becoming a reality.

In 2013, the Research Institute of Chicago (RIC) presented the first mind-controlled bionic leg, thanks to support from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command's (USAMRMC) Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC). Until now, this technology was only available for prosthetic arms. These brainy bionic legs are still being studied and perfected, but it’s hoped that they will be available in the next few years. This life-changing technology will be able to help the more than 1,600 service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with amputations. Bionic limbs will make the transition to active duty or civilian life smoother for wounded warriors.

In one case study, a civilian who lost his lower leg in a motorcycle accident underwent a procedure called “Targeted Muscle Re-innervation”. This procedure redirects nerves that originally went to muscles in the amputated limb to still-healthy muscles in the limb above the amputation. As these healthy muscles contract, they generate signals that are detected by sensors within the prosthetic and analyzed by a specially-designed computer chip and program The program rapidly decodes the type of movement the individual is preparing to do, such as bending the knee, and then sends those commands to the leg. This allows the person to walk up and down ramps and stairs and transition between activities without stopping. The user also can move (reposition) the bionic leg just by thinking about it, which is not possible with current motorized prosthetics.

The bionic leg is also showing a decreased rate of falling and quicker response time. Stay tuned for availability of this groundbreaking technology.

[Image Source: RIC/NWU]

Water pollution and birth defects

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
New study from Centers for Disease Control link previously contaminated water to birth defects.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirmed what has been suspected for a long time: Previously contaminated tap water at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune was linked to serious birth defects in babies born between 1968 and 1985.

Pregnant women on base were drinking tap water primarily contaminated by chemicals from an off-base dry-cleaning facility. Other chemicals from underground storage tanks, industrial spills, and waste-disposal sites were also detected in the water.

The water wells on base were shut down in 1985, but the damage had already been done. Pregnant women at Camp Lejuene were four times more likely to have babies with serious birth defects (such as spina bifida) as well as a slightly higher risk of developing childhood cancers.

The Veterans Administration continues to provide compensation for those affected by this exposure.

New year, new coveralls for the Navy

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Navy, Safety, Uniforms
By early 2014, more sailors will be better protected against fires with new flame-resistant coveralls.

Before 2013 comes to a close, the Navy will begin distributing Flame Resistant Variant (FRV) coveralls to all Sailors assigned to surface ships and aircraft carriers. Previously, only Sailors working in engineering departments, on flight decks, and in other high-risk areas were issued flame-resistant clothing. However, a recent review found that the highest risk of severe injury from flames was from major fires or explosions, which puts any Sailor at risk. Tests revealed that the Navy Working Uniforms (NWU) type I, made of a polyester cotton blend, are susceptible to melting in a fire, which could cause even greater injury to the wearer. The new FRV coveralls are 100% cotton with a fire-resistant coating, which is self-extinguishing. The Navy plans to improve and standardize all coveralls over the next couple years by combining the protective effects of flame resistance, arc-flash protection, and low-lint specifications into one safe and effective uniform.

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