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: Mind Tactics
Not only can meditation help with stress, it may even boost your immune system and reduce inflammation. In fact, research has found that people who have been in a structured mindfulness program actually had fewer sick days compared to those who didn’t meditate. Even when you’re sick, meditation may actually help you feel better (and happier) in spite of lingering symptoms. And although meditation doesn’t seem to help the elderly to the same extent, it can still help some.
Not sure how to get started or how to advance your practice? Check out HPRC’s “A mindfulness meditation primer” and the MP3 audio files linked there.
To be good at something, you can’t avoid hard work. It often requires 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become an expert in a profession, sport, game, or other skill. You can’t just go through the motions of practice sessions. You need to engage in “deliberate practice” in which you’re highly focused on mastering specific skills in complex conditions.
The most impressive performances require talent, but even the most talented people have to deliberately train skills to reach the highest level of capability and performance and then to maintain that level.
To develop and maintain your own talent, try the following:
- Train your body, mind, and emotions with specific skills that are most related to what you want to achieve.
- Have a sense that “I can do this.”
- Cultivate the ability to cope with the emotions of disappointments and setbacks along the way.
- Listen to feedback from others (a commanding officer, coach, or mentor) and put it into practice.
The video below (source) shows one example of where deliberate practice matters. Doctors who deal with a “Code Blue” heart failure situation hope for the best, but they consistently (and deliberately) prepare for the worst.
Have you heard the terms “resilience” and “Total Force Fitness,” but you’re not quite sure what they mean or where they fit into the health and performance picture? Read on.
Your health is the foundation. The 2010 article "Why Total Force Fitness?" states, “nothing works without health.” Health is not just physical and not just something to worry about when you’re sick. Health is a combination of physical, mental, spiritual, and social well-being and includes practices that promote wellness in addition to those that help you recover from sickness or injury.
Resilience is next. Resilience is the ability to bounce back—or even better, forward—and thrive after experiencing hardship. It is not the ability to completely withstand hardship but rather the ability to come back from it and grow stronger through the experience.
Next is human performance optimization (HPO). Unlike resilience, which typically requires the experience of hardship, HPO involves performing at your best for whatever goal or mission you have (whether that is your PT test, a combat mission, or raising children). It goes beyond simply resisting challenges; it means functioning at a new optimal level to face new challenges.
Health, resilience, and optimal performance are the foundations of Total Force Fitness, which is defined in the “Physical Fitness” chapter of “Total Force Fitness for the 21st Century” (see link above) as a “state in which the individual, family, and organization can sustain optimal well-being and performance under all conditions.” Being totally fit requires a holistic approach—that is, an approach that doesn’t focus on just one aspect alone such as nutrition or physical fitness, but on multiple domains of fitness. It means attending to your mind (including psychological, behavioral, spiritual, and social components) and your body (including physical, nutritional, medical and environmental components). In order to achieve Total Force Fitness, these factors come together to enhance your resilience and/or performance.
This is where HPRC can help you on your quest for total fitness. By visiting each of our domains—Physical Fitness, Environments, Nutrition, Dietary Supplements, Family & Relationships, and Mind Tactics—you can get evidence-based information on a variety of holistic topics to help you achieve and sustain total fitness. But remember that total fitness is a life-long process that will ebb and flow. And it isn’t just about you; your loved ones are an important piece of the picture, too.
Pain can be unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unrelenting, so even the most resilient Warfighters can be vulnerable to it. Because of pain, you may experience symptoms of anxiety or depression; your mind may even exaggerate the intensity and awfulness of pain. Socially, you might experience criticism, rejection, and negative interactions with family, spouse, or peers. Even if interactions are generally positive, you may want to withdraw from people or difficult situations
Chronic pain, which lasts longer than three months and is unresponsive to treatment, can affect quality of life for many. At least 100 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic pain. Unfortunately, combat and other situations make Warfighters especially susceptible to experiencing injury and pain. One study of an infantry brigade found that three months after return from Afghanistan, 44% of the soldiers reported chronic pain.
The American Psychological Association has shared evidence that relief from pain is more likely when mind and body are both treated. The National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine has also indicated that continued study of non-drug approaches to pain management is a priority.
The latest trend in treating pain is the “biopsychosocial model,” which focuses on exercise and sleep (not just meds and surgery) as important biological influences. Important psychological factors include thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and attention. And impactful social factors involve healthcare, family, and work. All of these factors can contribute to understanding and mitigating the impacts of pain.
The American Psychological Association shares concrete advice to manage pain, including these tips:
- Distract yourself.
- Stay active and exercise.
- Know your limits.
- Follow prescriptions carefully.
- Make social connections.
- Don’t lose hope.
Today is Memorial Day. Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” after the Civil War. In 1882, Decoration Day became widely known as Memorial Day, and after WWII it became a day to remember all our fallen heroes, not just those from the Civil War. In 1967, Congress passed the law making it an official holiday to be celebrated on May 30, subsequently changed to the last Monday of May. We at HPRC extend our greatest appreciation to those who have perished for our nation and offer our sincere sympathy for the families left behind. There are many ways people choose to remember those who gave their lives as a supreme sacrifice to our country and its ideals. HPRC is dedicated to providing our Warfighters and their families the information they need to build resilience to prevent injury and illness and carry out their missions as safely and effectively as possible. Our desire is to reduce the level of sacrifice our warriors have to make as they fulfill their future missions for us and for our nation.
Mindfulness isn’t something you have to do sitting still. You can apply mindfulness to activities such as stretching. A great way to do this is by using yoga poses. When stretching in a mindful way, you bring your attention to your breath as you stretch your muscles.
Mindful stretching can help you in a number of ways:
- To focus your attention before or after a workout
- To focus on and relax knotted areas within your muscles
- To provide closure to something you’re working on (such as the transition from work to weekend)
- As a routine before you go to bed to prime your body for sleep
In mindful stretching, the focus is not on doing repetitions or certain times, but rather going with what your body needs in the moment. To learn how, see HPRC’s “Mindful Stretching Exercises Using Yoga Poses” for a step-by-step guide with pictures.
Anxiety can help motivate you to perform better, but too much can become overwhelming and get in the way of living life to the fullest. When ignored or avoided, anxiety can actually become more intense rather than less. To keep anxiety under control, we have three letters for you: PFD. We aren’t talking about a Personal Flotation Device; we’re talking about first preventing anxiety, then facing it, and finally de-stressing. Read more...
An eating disorder can impact your performance, both physically and mentally. But you can take steps to overcome it.
Eating disorders are serious conditions involving a person’s attitudes and behaviors toward food, weight, and body image. People with eating disorders eat extremely small or excessive amounts of food and usually feel embarrassment, disgust, and depression.
Eating disorders can be triggered by a number of causes, including genetic, biologic, behavioral, emotional, psychological, and social factors. Service members must meet certain physical requirements and often set even higher expectations for themselves. Pressure to be at an ideal weight or have the best physique can contribute to an eating disorder.
Even the most resilient service members are not immune to these triggers, and female service members are affected more than males. In addition, the number of diagnosed eating disorders in the military seems to be increasing, and many military members with eating disorders may go undiagnosed.
Not getting enough food or not eating healthy, consistent amounts of food means that your body is not being optimally fueled. And even worse, eating disorders can take a serious toll on your physical and emotional health, and your relationships.
The key to overcoming an eating disorder is seeking help as soon as you can and putting in the time. (It doesn’t go away overnight.) Research shows that psychotherapy is often the most successful approach, but treatment is complex and draws on expertise from other fields such as nutrition and medicine.
Stress affects your body, and the condition of your body can cause stress. If you have PTSD, you could be so chronically stressed that it contributes to a heart condition. Or if you had a heart attack, you could feel so traumatized that you become anxious. What’s more, stress could have contributed to your heart attack in the first place. This back-and-forth relationship also occurs between physical pain and depression. You physically hurt, so you feel down…you feel down, and so you hurt more.
This link between mind and body is amazing. Sometimes it can feel like it’s working against us, but you can also use the mind-body connection to your advantage! For instance, you can learn to push through strong emotions with mindfulness, reduce your blood pressure with a self-driven technique called autogenic training, or turn on your body’s relaxation response through deep breathing.
There are lots more ways you can put the mind-body connection to work to reduce your stress. Get more ideas by exploring HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section.
As your heart beats, the amount of time between these beats varies. In other words, your heart rate is constantly changing—speeding up and slowing down. Though it might seem counterintuitive, more of this “heart rate variability” (HRV) is better for both your physical health and how you cope with stress. And you can learn to listen and use it.
Some heart-rate monitors allow you to monitor your HRV and the effects of different training routines on it. Or you can check out biofeedback to help you master stress-management techniques such as paced breathing by giving you immediate feedback about your heart rate. Either way, HRV is a tool that can help you find the optimal timing for recovery or lighter training within your long-term workout regimen. In fact, HRV can even show when you’re at greatest risk for injury.
Pushing yourself is an important part of performance optimization, but you also need to regulate your emotional and physical stress. Biofeedback can help with your emotions, and heart-rate monitors that measure HRV can help optimize your physical training over months and years. Visit “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best” to learn more about how you can use HRV.