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
Total Force Fitness requires optimal performance, and optimal performance requires optimal sleep. One way to get your best sleep may lie in some of the subtle sounds you hear every day. You may have heard of “white” noise, a type of random, constant sound that can filter or mask surrounding noises. Studies have now found that another kind of sound—“pink” noise—can help your sleep be even more restful than actual silence. Unlike white noise, the volume of pink noise is essentially the same regardless of its frequency. (For serious audio buffs, here’s an explanation from Georgia State University’s “HyperPhysics” department.) When you think of pink noise, think of rain falling or the rhythm of a heartbeat. This kind of noise regulates and synchronizes with your brainwaves, which enhances the percentage of time you’re in a restful, stable sleep. Pink noise might be another strategy to add to your arsenal for getting better sleep. You can get recordings of pink noise from a variety of sources online—some even free—for your smartphone or other mp3 player or cd/dvd player. A little searching should turn up something you like. And read more about the importance of sleep and how it affects your performance.
Hiking is a great form of exercise and a great way to get outdoors and enjoy some scenery—especially when getting ready for deployment to challenging terrain. If the weather outside is less than ideal, however, or the winter temperatures become too frigid, you may need to move your hiking indoors to a treadmill. Keep in mind that you might not be working as hard on a treadmill as you would be hiking outside at your regular pace. Hiking requires different, often heavier footwear and involves a more diverse, varied terrain, both of which require more energy than walking in sneakers on a treadmill. If you want the same benefits, your treadmill needs to be set to at least a 3% incline for any speed up to 3.1 miles per hour to be comparable to what you expend hiking outside. You can still train for that mountain trek in bad weather—you’ll just need to make some slight adjustments. Happy trails…or treadmilling!
Motion sickness can affect even the strongest Warfighters. Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sweating are some of the telltale signs of kinetosis, or motion sickness. The potential impact on individual and force readiness make it a concern in military medicine.
Motion sickness may affect individuals differently, but generally it follows a pattern. The earliest symptom typically is abdominal discomfort. If the motion continues, discomfort is usually followed by overly warm sensations, nausea, and wanting cool air.
Motion sickness can be alleviated to a degree by following these simple tips:
- Pick a seat where motion is less likely to be felt, such as an aisle seat on a plane, a central cabin on a ship, or a car toward the front of a train.
- Avoid sudden movements of the head, which can aggravate motion sickness.
- Avoid tasks that involve prolonged close-up eye movement or focus (such as reading a book). Focus instead on the road in front of you or on a distant object so that your senses can confirm that you’re on the move.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during a trip, as alcohol can worsen motion sickness.
- If possible, expose yourself to the motion in gradually and in stages until you adapt to the movement.
Jerome Greer Chandler, a former combat medic, describes the severity of motion sickness among U.S. service members in an article to The American Legion Magazine [PDF]. For a detailed reading on motion sickness and its effect among military personnel, see the Textbooks of Military Medicine (volume 2).
Pentagon scientists are hoping to build special gear designed to turn divers into veritable Aquamen (and Aquawomen). Although it’s still in the research phase, the new system would protect divers from the adverse effects of diving too deep or surfacing too fast. Sensors would read and adjust to a diver’s physical signs as well as help control levels of nitric oxide to prevent the decompression sickness known as “the bends.” When a diver ascends too quickly, bubbles form inside the body, which can block the blood vessels in the spinal cord and disrupt the nervous system. It can be very painful and can lead to joint pain, paralysis, and even sudden death if a diver is not careful.
The new diving gear will be a portable and versatile system that can potentially serve for use in other special operations as well as for civilian divers. This system will have to be designed for the most extreme combat dive profiles, which sometimes require a 35,000-meter free-fall from an aircraft, diving 200 feet below the surface for at least two hours, surfacing, and immediately diving again, followed by continued protection after being picked up in an unpressurized aircraft. This is one of DARPA’s most recent Small Business Innovation research proposals for 2013.
Virtual reality was first introduced as a therapy tool for people with anxiety disorders such as phobias, but it is now used for a wide range of conditions, from PTSD to childhood ADHD. In fact, it recently warranted its own symposium at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where experts exchanged ideas on the current state of research.
Virtual environments used in therapy sessions are created for the individual’s needs—for example, a noisy classroom for a child with ADHD, the re-creation of the 9/11 attacks for a firefighter or police officer, or “Virtual Iraq” for a soldier. “Virtual Afghanistan” is the newest creation and is already being used to help service members overcome PTSD. Active-duty men and women are gradually brought back to their traumatic event using the virtual world as the therapist provides verbal cues to facilitate the healing process.
With a view to mitigating future need for therapy, a series of episodes is currently being created to provide pre-deployment “Stress Resilience Training for Warfighters.” The goal is to help reduce the risk of PTSD and better prepare warriors for actual scenarios they will encounter in theater.
For more information about how to prevent and manage stress, visit HPRC’s Stress Control section.
Most people associate dehydration with hot weather. Here’s news: You can experience dehydration in cold weather too. Being active outside in cold weather for less than two hours doesn’t usually present a problem. But for long-term exposure such as a field deployment, which can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, the combination of heavy clothing and high-intensity exercise can lead to increased sweating and the possibility of dehydration. You may not feel as thirsty in cold weather as in other climates, because your body chemistry impairs your brain’s ability to tell you when to hydrate. Cold weather also has the effect of moving body fluids from your extremities to your core, causing increased urine output and adding to dehydration.
The bottom line: When in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to be an indicator of hydration. Drink often, before you’re thirsty. Water and sports drinks are the best fluids to maintain hydration, even in cold weather conditions. When you’re in a situation where you need to monitor your hydration level keep in mind that carbonated and caffeinated beverages (including energy drinks) have a dehydrating effect since they increase urine flow. Also avoid alcohol consumption in cold weather. It gives a temporary feeling of warmth but interferes with the body’s ability to retain heat since shivering, the normal response to maintain body temperature, is delayed.
Sometimes it’s not easy to hydrate as much as you need, especially when on a mission. One way to measure your hydration status is to monitor the color and volume of your urine. (Snow makes a good test spot.) Dark, scanty urine is an indication of dehydration. Ideally, urine should be light yellow to clear. Enjoy getting some exercise in the cold weather, but be sure to keep your water bottle in tow.
Fort Drum recently opened a “Mountain Functional Fitness Facility.” In keeping with the goal of overall combat fitness, the facility’s purpose is to help soldiers become strong and agile for combat while deployed in both cold conditions and rough terrain such as rugged mountainous environments.
“Functional fitness” focuses on developing specific muscle movements and overall athleticism rather than building up specific muscles. This new center features state-of-the-art equipment and the mission of helping soldiers become conditioned to operate in realistic situations where both strength and agility training are mission critical. Check out this report in Business Insider for additional photos.
This past July, the Military Health System focused on promoting Total Force Fitness, giving priority to seven top areas: tobacco-free living, drug-abuse prevention, healthy eating, active living, injury-free and violence-free living, reproductive and sexual health, and mental and emotional well-being. They suggest managing your own health and wellness by making healthy choices between doctor’s visits. For inspirations and ideas that can help, check out HPRC’s ways to:
- make healthy food decisions for yourself, and your family;
- become tobacco-free and/or reducing substance use;
- be active for yourself, your family; and
- enhance your mental and emotional health.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) has now been launched to answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Visit the OPSS section of HPRC’s website now to learn more!
Before the end of October of 2012, the Army will issue to all soldiers fire-resistant ACUs that have been factory treated with an EPA-approved insect repellent called permethrin. This method may be a cleaner and safer way of repelling insects compared to DEET, another long-lasting insect repellent. The Army has been using permethrin for nearly 20 years in the form of liquid or spray, and by treating ACUs, soldiers will experience better, longer-lasting protection against ticks, fleas, mosquitos, and other insects that carry diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, and Lyme. Other advantages include not having to worry about remembering to apply insect repellant and whether you’re applying it correctly. Uniforms treated with permethrin have been used by the Marine Corps since 2007 and have been used in some Iraq and Afghanistan operations but until now have not been available to all soldiers. The new ACUs will be good for about 50 launderings, but it is important to note that the uniforms should be washed separately from other clothing. There will be a permethrin-free ACU available for those with medical conditions, including pregnant women, who should not wear the treated uniforms. For more information check out these FAQs or contact the Armed Forces Pest Management Board.
Body armor, in addition to necessary equipment and supplies, well exceeds the recommended carrying maximum of 50 pounds. The DoD was asked by Congress to conduct a research project to explore the possibility of lightening body armor without sacrificing protection. Currently, the research shows it does not seem possible to make body armor out of a lighter material while still adequately protecting the individual. However, leaders are taking a more preventative approach to reducing injuries on the battlefield. These include changes in pre-deployment training, as well as an increased number of deployed physical and occupational therapists and improvements in forward-deployed care centers.