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
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.
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.