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HPRC Fitness Arena: Family & Relationships
This spring, create a “family tree of health” by collecting your family medical history. The information you gather might help you to take steps to manage health conditions that run in your family.
Record the health information of at least 3 generations in your family, including children, siblings, parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles and their children. Collecting your family medical history is a way to find clues about any medical conditions that might run in your family. Share the information with your doctor to help her/him see patterns that could affect you. If your family members have medical issues such as heart disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers, and diabetes, you might be at increased risk for these conditions. Then your doctor can recommend lifestyle changes and/or treatments to reduce the chances a medical condition will become a problem.
So, get asking! And write down the answers. Ask your family members about their chronic conditions. Ask if they’ve had any serious illnesses such as cancer or stroke and when they developed. Also ask about problems with pregnancy or childbirth. If you’re missing some important information, consider searching for obituaries or death certificates of relatives who are no longer with you.
My Family Health Portrait is an online tool where you can enter your family’s health history, print it to share with family members and healthcare providers, and save the information so you can update it over time. Collecting your family medical history will not only benefit your own health, but also the health of generations of your family to come!
If you have a child with special needs, the good news is that military families have access to special support and services. When you first learn that your child has exceptional needs, it’s a challenge to sort through: You have to adjust your expectations and lifestyle.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed, shocked, and perhaps denial initially. Parents of children with special needs often grieve the loss of their initial hopes and dreams for their child too. Physical reactions to the news—such as crying or lack of appetite—are also common.
What can you learn from parents who have “been there”?
- Support between spouses is essential, especially early in the process. Support from other family members and friends also can help you adapt.
- Learning about your child’s disability or medical condition and what it means for his or her future health and abilities is important. Stay positive about your child’s future while also being realistic and accepting of his or her possible limitations.
- Anticipate some changes to your social life. It’s important to maintain old routines, especially if you have other children. But time with your own friends may initially decrease as you focus on your child’s needs. However, be careful not to isolate yourself.
Be aware of your own coping strategies during this stressful time. Coping effectively with this news will enable you be attentive to your child.
Look for support groups and tap into resources with local and national organizations. Explore your Family-to-Family Health Information Center and get connected to other families and support groups. Enroll in the military’s own Exceptional Family Member Program, which will connect you to a coordinator who can help you figure out what programs and services are available to you.
Many parents of children with special needs feel highly satisfied in their parenting role. With the right support and resources in place, you can feel the same way.
People with good friendships and strong family relationships are likely to live longer than those without social ties. This is true regardless of gender, age, or how healthy you are. Strong relationships matter for your health, just as much as losing weight, getting active, and stopping smoking. To increase your chances of living longer, strengthen your social relationships. How? A good conversation with a friend, taking your mom out to lunch, or getting involved in your community are all ways to improve your connections with those around you. Doing so also can lessen feelings of loneliness and improve your health in the long run. The reverse is also true: People who don’t feel supported by those around them report more health problems. People with weak relationships are at risk for earlier death.
Take an inventory of all of your relationships and consider where improvements can be made. Are you putting in the effort needed to keep these ties strong? Doing so will not only enhance your connections to those around you, it also has the potential to add years to your life.
Ever have well-meaning people tell you to shake off feelings of sadness, frustration, or disappointment? It probably didn’t help. Similarly, when someone else is hurting, especially someone you love, you might try too hard to fix it. Empathy is feeling someone else’s emotions and letting that person know you fully understand. Sympathy is observing troubling events in someone’s life and letting that person know you’re concerned.
Sympathy is sometimes useful, such as when you want to maintain boundaries or focus on the task at hand, but it’s potentially less impactful than empathy. Make a difference with PACT: Purpose, Awareness, Compassion, and Treaty.
Purpose: Is your goal to let someone know you care (sympathy: e.g., “I wish this wasn’t happening to you; maybe we should talk about something less upsetting?”), or are you aiming to connect more deeply (empathy: e.g., “It feels like maybe part of you wants to talk about this more and part of you wants to set it aside right now.”)?
Awareness: Are you “observing” the person from afar (sympathy: e.g., “I hate that you’ve been having such a hard time lately.”), or trying to see the world through their eyes (empathy: e.g., “It feels like nothing is going right lately.”)?
Compassion: You can try to understand somebody based on similar personal experiences or you can use your imagination to understand more deeply, putting yourself in the other person’s “shoes.”
Treaty: With sympathy, you might feel pulled to agree with someone (e.g., “Yup, you got kicked around.”), but that might also prevent him or her from considering alternative viewpoints. With empathy, you can tune into how somebody feels without necessarily agreeing with that person (e.g., “You feel abused, and it’s hard not to feel like a victim right now.”).
Try PACT daily and decide what’s helpful: empathy or sympathy.
The end of a relationship might bring feelings of sadness and stress. But breaking up can be good for you when separating from a relationship leads to self-growth. How can you make this happen? To get there, reflect on the benefits of breaking up and write them down. What can you do now that you weren’t able to do before?
Writing out what led to the break-up, how the breakup happened, and what happened after the break-up can reduce your negative thoughts about the split. Venting to a friend definitely has its place, but to capitalize on the split, focus on what is (or was) going on for you during this time by writing about it. This can help you examine any red flags you might have overlooked or any patterns that you might have developed in how you select partners. Consider how you contributed to the relationship not working and what you might be able to do differently in the future. This self-reflection can lead to powerful conclusions.
You probably know people who seem to choose the same kind of person or relationship every time, and it ends up not working out in the end or not being good for them. Don’t be one of them! By taking some time to write down and reflect on your last relationship, you might be saving yourself from future angst.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is making sure everyone knows about the importance of sleep. A balanced lifestyle includes proper nutrition, physical fitness, and healthy sleep. A good night’s rest can especially improve your performance on-duty and off-duty.
HPRC offers many resources to help you learn about sleep, assess your own rest patterns, and improve your sleep habits. Also be sure to check out NSF's site, where you can download helpful sleep tips, an infographic with ideas on how to “celebrate” Sleep Awareness Week, and additional healthy-sleep tools.
When there’s consensus among family members about your military service, life is much easier. It’s normal for loved ones to have differing views about service and/or levels of commitment over time. But when there’s a big difference, some families might feel an extra burden of stress or sadness. Here are some tips to help build a bridge to family harmony. Read more here.
Between the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and the continuing popularity of video games among children, does exergaming actually count as physical activity? Exergaming, or exercise video gaming, is popular among children and adults because it offers entertainment and physical activity. Exergames include:
- Virtual cycling
- Interactive climbing machines
- Aerobics, dancing, and floor games for multiple video game platforms
- Mobile exercise games for smartphones and tablets
While it’s certainly fun, studies suggest that exergaming is not the best form of exercise for kids. It does increase energy expenditure (compared to rest), but it’s not necessarily enough to meet your children’s exercise needs. For example, when compared to a phys ed class, exergaming fell short. For the most part, kids who play exergames don’t burn enough calories or increase their heart rates enough to make up for exercising.
The good news about exergaming is that it can increase motivation and keep children engaged. It could be a great starting point for inactive children needing to begin a physical activity routine. It can be part of the daily-recommended doses of exercise and physical activity for kids and teens too. Families could find it as a fun alternative to sitting on the couch and watching a movie or TV show. Exergaming might be better than sitting and playing video games, but it shouldn’t replace more vigorous activities such as outside play. Save the exergaming for the next rainy or snowy day!
It’s a fact: Teens need more sleep than adults. While most adults require a minimum of 7–8 hours of shut-eye, teens need 9 or more hours. (Newborns sleep 16–18 hours, preschoolers 11–12 hours, and school-age kids 10+ hours.)
However, most teens tend to sleep only 7.4 hours on school nights. Middle- and high-school students also have different sleep cycles from adults, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. most nights. Homework, exams, sports, and other extracurriculars—even changes such as daylight savings time—can also throw your teen’s snooze schedule off-kilter. Does your teen crave screen time late at night? Blue light from computers, tablets, and cell phones can throw off their sleep cycles too. Plus, tuning into a recent text or social media post can get the brain going, which can also make it hard to fall asleep.
Teens’ body clocks can cause them to go to bed late and sleep late in the morning. Added to this, early school start times make it difficult for teens to get enough sleep. If possible, ask your local school officials about later start times, or consider finding schools with later start times. Students who attend schools that start later have:
- More weeknight sleep
- Less daytime sleepiness
- Fewer concentration problems
- Better attendance
- Improved academic performance
- Fewer car accidents
For more information, you can visit the National Sleep Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Learn more about helping your teen get a good night's sleep—and wake up ready to start the day!
A little kindness goes a long way. Thoughtfully supporting others actually improves your chances for a long life too. There are lots of ways to show helpfulness to neighbors, friends, or relatives such as providing transportation, running errands, or helping with childcare. Everyone benefits from giving and receiving support, and it doesn’t always have to be a deed or gesture.
Providing emotional support to somebody is one of the best gifts you can give. Share your thoughts and feelings, respond to each other’s needs, and listen attentively. Offer advice when asked. Not sure what to say? Sometimes your presence alone can bring comfort to someone who needs it. In fact, a caring gesture often encourages its recipient to return the kindness—so it becomes a “win-win.” Be nice, help others, and develop long-lasting relationships.