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
Increasing the strength of your respiratory muscles (the ones that help you breathe: your diaphragm and the muscles between your ribs) will improve aerobic fitness, especially for long-duration tasks. Respiratory muscle training (RMT) can be achieved through whole-body aerobic exercise, upper-body strength conditioning, and some commercial RMT devices. However, using your military Pro Mask or other commercial mask device as a method of RMT is not going to prepare you for higher elevations. Studies have also found that RMT only slightly improves performance in those who are already aerobically fit, (i.e., military personnel); it has somewhat more benefit for those less fit or with chronic conditions. Your Pro Mask was made to protect your lungs, eyes, and face from chemical and biological agents, radioactive particles, and battlefield contaminants. It does not create enough airflow resistance to help improve aerobic capacity, and it wasn’t designed to be exercise equipment. In addition, there is no scientific evidence to show that using commercial masks at normal altitudes will improve your performance at high altitudes. You can read more from USARIEM about using Pro Masks and commercial products for exercise training, as well an overview of current information and recommendations.
Physical and mental rehab for wounded warriors can come in the form of an undersea adventure. A 2011 study at Johns Hopkins University looked at the effects of a four-day scuba certification class on a group of veterans with spinal injuries. The benefits noted included improved muscle movements, reduction of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improved sensitivity/sensation for those with certain spinal cord injuries.
Being in the water offers a zero-gravity environment that enables Warfighters to develop the confidence and ability to do activities they may not feel comfortable doing on land. There are organizations that provide scuba lessons and outings for wounded veterans and their families free of charge, such as Adaptive Heroes, Soldiers Undertaking Disabled Scuba (SUDS), and Divers4Heroes, to name a few. Check for programs in your area and explore the great unknown!
Army researchers have developed a special method of meal delivery for U-2 pilots on long flight missions, which can sometimes last up to 12 hours. Pressurized suits and bulky equipment limit pilot movement and prevent them from opening their helmet visors—so feeding themselves until now has been impossible. Chefs and nutritionists in Natick, MA, teamed up to create meals that meet a pilot’s calorie and nutrition needs. The meals are turned into a consistency similar to baby food and delivered to the pilot by way of a metallic tube about the size of a tube of toothpaste. The containers fit into a port on the pilot’s helmet in a way that doesn’t interfere with the suit’s pressure. Watch this video to see these tube meals in action!
What are the favorites among pilots? Caffeinated chocolate pudding and chicken-à-la-king are the most popular. Other meals include beef stroganoff, key lime pie, applesauce, and sloppy joe.
Being able to hear well is crucial for a Warfighter, not only for effective communication but also for survival. Noise-related hearing loss, including tinnitus, can be a tactical risk for individual and unit effectiveness. Blast injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), RPGs, and mortar rounds are the largest cause of hearing loss for forces in Iraq. Unfortunately, it has become an "invisible" injury and an accepted outcome of military service. Compensation payments for hearing loss as the primary disability increased 319% between 2001 and 2006. While the military has done extensive research and established standards regarding noise and noise exposure, here are a few things you can do to help minimize the effects of this occupational hazard.
- Wear hearing protectors when firing weapons or traveling in noisy vehicles or aircraft.
- Make sure that earplugs such as combat arms earplugs (CAE) fit properly to protect your hearing and 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 heart rate and blood pressure, cause sleep difficulties, and lead other negative health consequences.
- Report any signs of hearing loss as soon as possible.
While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, there are treatments available. 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.
The DoD Hearing Center of Excellence is committed to preventing, treating, and rehabilitating hearing loss and auditory injury for service members and veterans. The HCE offers evidence-based clinical care in collaboration with other organizations and Centers of Excellence to improve quality of life and raise awareness about noise pollution and occupational safety.
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.