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
Why has the F-22 Raptor been depriving its pilots of oxygen for the last 12 years? Air Force officials recently told a House subcommittee hearing (a complete video of the two-hour hearing is also available) that they don’t know what’s behind the dizziness, confusion, blackouts, memory loss, fatigue, and eventually chronic cough (“Raptor cough”) that pilots experience while flying the stealth jets. After more than a dozen incidents between 2000 and 2011—and one fatal crash—where pilots were being choked by the plane, the Air Force’s entire F-22 fleet was grounded in May 2011.
Investigations ruled out low blood sugar and dehydration as possible causes of the symptoms and eventually concluded that the problem was an overinflated pressure vest that restricted breathing.
In response, a team of NASA engineers and Navy divers developed a new-and-improved pressure suit and back-up oxygen systems and removed a faulty charcoal air filter. These measures seem to have alleviated the problems—a dozen F-22s recently were deployed to Japan without incident. Now restrictions are being lifted, although the jets and their pilots are being closely monitored. Pilots currently must operate under altitude ceilings so that they don’t need to use the flight vests, and they must also stay close to emergency landing sites. Experts and scientists continue to investigate the primary cause of these incidents as well as improve safety and back-up systems.
Developing technology in order to save the lives of those who serve is vitally important. To that end, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) recently received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Army to develop monitoring sensors that will be able to detect blood loss early, which may help save lives on the battlefield. WPI will partner with the University of Massachusetts Medical School to create wireless sensors that can be worn on the body to detect blood loss, body movement, and posture. They will also be working to combine that information with smartphone technology that medics can use as a handheld diagnostic device in rapid-response situations.
"Animated growth, like trees, never proceeds in straight lines. Trees are not like the walls of a house, they adjust to the living conditions of wind, sun, soil, and rain." - Ruth Cohn, noted psychotherapist
Whether it is environmental challenges (heat, cold, altitude) or psychological pressure, adjusting your performance strategies to your surroundings is the only way to ensure success. There will be situations that may seem impossible to overcome, but that is when you must dig deep and use whatever resources you have available. Enhance your performance by challenging yourself at every opportunity. Visit HPRC’s Environment and Mind Tactics sections to learn strategies on how to best adapt to different situations.
Face paint has been used for many decades to blend the appearance of Warfighters’ exposed skin into their environments and protect them from the enemy. The American Chemical Society is taking a new approach to the traditional camouflage face paint by making it from a material that also can provide some protection from the heat wave of roadside bombs, IEDs, and other explosions on the battlefield. Thermal blasts last only a few seconds, but can cook the face, hands, and other exposed skin. The new face paint will protect exposed skin against temperatures reaching around 600 degrees Fahrenheit, for up to 60 seconds. The paint even incorporates the insect repellent DEET in a form that will not catch fire.
This new face paint is still in the testing stages, but already there are plans for a colorless form for use by men and women in other occupations—such as firefighters and other emergency responders—who are at risk of extreme heat exposure.
Heat illness is a hot topic for the military. Did you know there is a spectrum of conditions that fall under the term “heat illness,” some more severe than others? HPRC has great resources on how to prepare for exposure to hot environments and how to prevent heat illness. Read HPRC’s Answer to “What IS heat illness?” for more about what heat illness is and how to identify the signs that you might be developing more serious conditions.
On September 11, join an online webinar, Can You Hear Me? An Introduction to Hearing Loss Prevention, sponsored by the CDC, to discuss the primary causes of hearing loss, and learn how to prevent it. This educational event is free; however, there are a limited number of open lines, so log in early.
Although the military does not allow women to take part in direct combat, they routinely face the dangers of war. The Pentagon was recently pressed to develop better-fitting body armor for female soldiers, recognizing that men and women have different body shapes. Women have more curves, shorter torsos, and narrower shoulders than most of their male counterparts. The current male-based body armor creates gaps and additional pressure points that leaves service women vulnerable and reduces their performance (aiming a weapon, entering and exiting vehicles, etc).
Engineers are looking to create plates that conform to the female body, similar to the armor worn by TV’s popular Xena: Warrior Princess. There are some concerns regarding weight and protection, but so far the Army has tested eight sizes, with positive feedback from women Warfighters.
In 2004, the U.S. Army digitized its former camouflage pattern on standard issue uniforms. It was termed “Universal Camouflage Pattern,” or UCP, with the hope that it would serve as a one-print-fits-all for any environment. The theory behind the digital print was not the result of a fashion craze; it started in the late 1970s with two psychology professors at West Point. Neuroscientists divided the human visual system into two parallel circuits. One circuit told us where objects were located, the other what objects were. Officially called the “Dual Texture Gradient,” the idea was that the pixelated pattern would interfere with those circuits and make it difficult to identify objects. More research, based on how our brains processed MRI scans as boxes and rectangles, led camouflage experts to similar conclusions, that this pattern was smart camo. Initially, the Marines adopted the pattern from the Canadians. However, the pattern failed early trials in the U.S. Army, and troops reported that it performed poorly in combat.
In 2009, after a camo detection study, the Army revised the design for ground troops in Afghanistan to the current “MultiCam” pattern as a temporary solution. Currently, four designs from non-government vendors are in a bid to become the next camo pattern. Submissions required that designs include a woodland variant, a desert variant, and a transitional variant for every environment in between. The goal of extensive field tests will be to optimize performance range from 35-400 meters in a woodland environment and 35-500 meters in a transitional and desert environment. Testing of the first pattern, which resembles reptile skin, began in June. Testing of the other patterns could last up to nine months, and production of the new uniforms could begin as early as 2013.
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. Be sure to take a look at the new FDA regulations regarding sunscreens and their effectiveness.
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.
Our bodies know when to sleep thanks to “circadian rhythms,” which are regulated by our brains on a 24-hour cycle. Circadian rhythms are linked to core body temperature, so ideally you should always sleep between 0300 and 0500, when your core body temperature is lowest and your performance abilities are at their lowest. Keep in mind that your individual circadian schedule is based on where you are and takes cue from environmental factors such as the sun and from social patterns. When crossing time zones, your internal clock needs time to adjust, which can take several days. Factors that influence this adaptation are:
- how many time zones are crossed, and
- whether you fly eastward or westward—the former takes longer to adjust.
Keep in mind that, in order to make up sleep or to adjust to a new zone, the best times to sleep are between 0300-0500 or 1300-1500.
For tips on how to improve your quality or length of sleep check out HPRC’s Sleep Optimization section, and for information on how sleep loss impacts all of the areas of Total Fitness check out HPRC’s Overview on sleep loss.