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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: Total Force Fitness

Mental flexibility beats forced positivity

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Feeling anxious or down? Find out how awareness and mental flexibility is more important than thinking other, specific thoughts.

Forcing yourself to “just think positively,” especially if you’re feeling sad or anxious, typically doesn’t work. New perspectives can be wonderful, but they can’t be forced. Typically, it isn’t specific thoughts that can make you feel better; it’s the flexibility to recognize that there’s more than one way to look at a situation.

Remember: Thinking about something doesn’t always make it true. For instance, you might believe, “My NCO thinks I’m incompetent.” Instead, you might take comfort in thinking, “My NCO pushes hard, but he knows I’m good at what I do”—if you really believe it. Still, it could lead to an internal debate: “He thinks I stink. No, he knows I’m good. He thinks I’m a loser,” and so on. But recognizing there are many ways to interpret your NCO’s behavior can be helpful, as you simply move forward and do what’s needed.

You’re not burying your feelings and you aren’t fighting them: You’re using this mindfulness and acceptance-based approach to become aware of thoughts and feelings, let them fade into the background, and focus on what’s important. It’s tempting to fight negative emotions, but the fight itself often makes things worse. Picture someone saying, “Don’t be anxious/sad/mad/frustrated,” and you’ll likely feel the emotion that much more strongly as you either try to push it away or cling to it. Be present: Tune into your feelings and face what’s happening. Let the experience come and watch it go.

Mindfulness in daily life might seem simple, but it’s not. Practice the skill and enjoy slowly becoming better at it!

CHAMP hosts workshop on steroids

A recent workshop on appearance- and performance-enhancing substances emphasizes that anabolic steroid use is a major health problem.

The Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) hosted a workshop last week (July 21, 2016) on appearance- and performance-enhancing substances. Subject-matter experts from Harvard University, the University of Missouri, and the Department of Defense spoke about androgenic anabolic steroids (AAS) and how the use of AAS has emerged as a major public-health problem, particularly among young male weightlifters. The exact number of military members using AAS is not known, but there is known use, and it might be higher than expected. The panel discussed the impact of AAS on military readiness—potential risks and potential benefits—and the need for more research in this area.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has some good resources on AAS, particularly their short- and long-term effects. And for information about other performance-enhancing substances, please visit Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS)

Exercise and breathing in summer

Exercising outside on hot, humid summer days might do more harm than good. Find out how to beat the heat!

Exercising outdoors can be uncomfortable and sometimes unhealthy when it’s hot and humid, but there are ways to work out through the weather woes. You’re more likely to breathe faster and deeper and through your mouth—bypassing your nose’s natural filtration system—on hot days. You also risk greater exposure to air pollutants (such as carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and ozone) that can inflame your respiratory system. However, the risks associated with not exercising at all are far greater than the risks of exercising outdoors.

So, plan ahead before exercising outside. And limit your exposure to pollutants, especially on days and in conditions when pollution is bad.

  • Avoid exercising in heavy-traffic areas, such as along highways and during rush hour.
  • During warmer months, exercise earlier in the morning or later in the evening, when ozone levels and temperatures aren’t as high.
  • Check the domestic or international air-quality ratings to determine when it’s safe to exercise outside. Limit your time outside on Code Red and Code Orange days. Environmental conditions on these days aren’t healthy, especially for children, the elderly, and those with existing respiratory conditions.
  • Exercise indoors when the air quality indicates high ozone and particulate levels.
  • Before any demanding physical activity, limit your carbon monoxide exposure by avoiding smoky areas and long car rides in congested traffic.

Free summer fun for military families

Take advantage of free admission to national parks and over 2,000 museums and nature centers this summer. Grab your kids and go!

Plan some indoor and outdoor adventures with your kids this summer and enjoy free admission to national parks and museums across the country. Hiking, camping, and learning activities are good for their minds and bodies. 

The amount of time children spend outdoors is steadily decreasing. Kids now spend more time inside—staring at screens—and less time outside. Your feelings about outdoor recreation likely impact how much time your kids spend outside too. Still, children who camp and hike tend to have more positive attitudes towards nature and the environment. Those who enjoy the outdoors tend to enjoy it as adults too.

Kids get more exercise at parks and playgrounds. So, shake things up by taking them to any national park: Free annual passes are available to current U.S. service members and their families, as well as Reserve and National Guard members.

Military families also can enjoy free admission to over 2,000 nature centers and art, science, history, and children’s museums through Labor Day. Museums encourage active learning and impact kids’ social and mental development. Little ones especially enjoy hands-on activities, interactive exhibits, and new learning experiences with their parents at children’s museums. And it keeps them on the go.

Pack water and snacks, plan your route, practice safe sun, and get out there!

Free summer meals for kids

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Some children and teens are vulnerable to hunger and poor nutrition, especially during the summer months when school is out. Learn how the Summer Meals Program keeps them healthy.

Some children go hungry during the summer months, especially those who receive free meals during the school year. Poor nutrition makes them prone to illness and other health issues too. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to fill this nutrition gap—by providing free meals to eligible kids and teens (up to age 18) at summer meal sites—through its Summer Meals Program.

Sites include schools, community centers, libraries, parks, playgrounds, and faith-based centers. Some also offer activities, games, music, and crafts to help kids learn about the benefits of healthy nutrition and physical fitness. Check out USDA’s Summer Meal Site Finder or call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-348-6479 to learn more. Follow the USDA’s Eat Smart to Play Hard recommendations and take the “Family Challenge” to stay healthy too.

  • Drink smart to play hard. Avoid sugary drinks and drink water often.
  • Try more fruits and vegetables. On “Try-day Fridays,” eat a new fruit or vegetable, or enjoy one prepared in a new way.
  • Limit screen time to 2 hours each day. Read books, play board games, or work on art projects instead.
  • Move more—at least 60 minutes each day. Go outside for a family walk or hike. Or cool off at a public swimming pool.

Reward your family’s healthy moves with a picnic or visit to a local park. And have fun experiencing new ways to feel your best this summer. 

 

Make sleep-bank “deposits”

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Mind-body, Sleep
More sleep generally is a good thing, and you can bank some in advance.

Unless something is “off” with your health, it’s hard to get too much sleep. But “banking” extra sleep can improve your performance.

Be sure to get some extra sleep in advance, especially if you’re heading out on a mission—where performance really matters—or about to endure a stretch of sleep deprivation. It’s unclear how much extra sleep you need to perform your best. But some evidence suggests those who sleep approximately 9–10 hours nightly for one week—before any situation involving performance or sleep deprivation—perform well. And those who bank extra sleep before a sleep-deprivation event tend to bounce back quicker during recovery time.

What about extreme sleepiness? If you’re unable to wake up or stay awake after you’ve had plenty of sleep, you might be experiencing hypersomnia. Make sure to consult your healthcare provider.

DOMS: Post-workout delayed muscle soreness

A tough workout can leave you sore for days. Find out how to prevent and reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Muscle pain a day or so after exercise—known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)—is common among athletes. Do you wonder why this happens—even when your workout went great—or what you can do about it?

DOMS results from damage to muscle fibers that occurred during exercise. You might experience DOMS after a hard workout, or even simple activities such as running and/or walking downhill or jumping. It also can occur when you’re starting a new workout routine or just getting back into shape after an illness or injury. The good news is DOMS can be treated at home—and sometimes prevented—with simple techniques, including stretching, protein/carbohydrate recovery drinks, and cold-water immersion. Sports massage and foam rolling can help reduce muscle soreness too.

Over-the-counter medications also can provide some relief. But use these at the lowest effective dose. Visit your doctor if the pain worsens or swelling occurs. In the meantime, read HPRC’s article, “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness,” to learn about the difference between DOMS and other musculoskeletal pain.

Premarital education helps marriages last

What helps an “I do” last forever? Find out what couples can gain from a premarital education program.

Premarital education programs can help couples maintain the satisfaction they feel early on in their relationship—and thrive in the long run. In the bliss of an engagement, couples often don’t think about future challenges they might face.

Premarital counseling offers a neutral place where engaged couples and newlyweds can learn about communication, conflict resolution, commitment, and ways to manage expectations. Couples learn to convey the importance of their relationship and focus on what’s necessary to create a loving and lasting marriage. Programs are adapted into various formats: Couples can attend a group workshop or meet privately with a counselor or religious leader.

After completing the program, many couples are more open to resolving conflict. Premarital counseling tends to lower a married couple’s risk of divorce. Or it can help unmarried couples decide whether to move forward with their marriage plans.

Don’t rule out premarital education, even if it’s your second marriage. Most divorced people eventually remarry. However, second marriages are even more likely to end in divorce than first ones.

Explore various marriage education programs to find one that’s right for you. Make sure to check with your installation office too. Another option is to ask your chaplain or religious leader about enrolling in a faith-based program. Or search for a local marriage and family therapist who specializes in premarital counseling. 

Food tips for your PCS

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Food, Moving, PCS
Is a move on your horizon? Add an “eating plan” to your checklist.

Packing up and heading to a new location can be stressful, even for service members who move often. Get a jump on your planning and use these “food resource” tips to ensure a smooth transition.

  • Plan meals. A few weeks before you move, inventory your food. Create weekly meal plans (and choose recipes) to use up what’s on hand, especially those foods you can’t take along.
  • Gift excess food. Give condiments and opened foods to a favorite neighbor. Although most unopened foods can go with your household goods, you can donate any excess to a food pantry if you want to save on weight. Some moving companies even offer this as a free service!
  • Pack a food box. Choose a clear plastic box and add basics—such as cereal, nut butter, jelly, coffee, and teas—for the first few days in your new home. Include an easy microwave meal such as red beans and instant rice too. And add a coffee pot, utensils, bowls, plates, plastic zip-type bags (in assorted sizes), dish soap, sponge, and a towel for cleanup. Send it in the moving truck or take it with you. Either way, plan accordingly.
  • Pack a cooler. Driving to your new location? Bring water, baby carrots, apples, or dried fruit for the car ride.
  • Manage overseas or regional moves. Contact your installation's family support office and ask about borrowing kitchenware essentials, especially if you don’t own any or expect them to arrive late. Remember to stock up on your favorite non-perishables—either hard-to-find or unavailable in your new location—and send them along with your household goods.
  • Unload and unpack. Make sure you’re properly fueled and hydrated if you’re doing any heavy lifting on move-in day. And forgo any alcohol.

 Happy trails! 

Recognizing mild TBI

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is common among returning service members, but it’s also common among civilians. Learn to recognize symptoms.

Between 2000 and 2015, more than 339,000 service members sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) conflicts. The first step to care is being able to recognize symptoms, especially for less obvious TBIs. While service members are at greater risk than their civilian counterparts, TBI is not just a military injury. Over 2.2 million American civilians are treated each year for TBI. Leading causes include falls and automobile accidents. In theater, blasts account for most TBIs. Each injury is unique, and each person’s road to recovery is different.

TBI involves alteration of brain function caused by an external physical force. A penetrating TBI is usually obvious, such as a bullet or stab wound to the head. Closed injuries sometimes aren’t so apparent: These include blast injuries, falls, vehicle crashes, and head-to-head collisions (such as on an athletic field).

Severity depends on the amount of brain tissue injured and ranges from mild to severe. Impairment can be physical, cognitive, sensory, and/or emotional.

About 82% of TBIs sustained in OIF/OEF conflicts were labeled mild (mTBI, also referred to as concussion). The most common symptom is headache. Other symptoms include dizziness, sleep disturbances, fatigue, attention and memory problems, irritability, and changes in vision, balance, and mood. However, symptoms can be subtle, and patients often don’t seek medical help for weeks or months after the injury occurred.

Most mTBI patients recover fully. The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) “Blast Injuries” web page offers good advice for recovering from blast-induced mTBI.

Recovery from moderate-to-severe TBI usually requires treatment at a rehabilitation hospital. The goals are to improve function and promote independence and re-integration into the community. Progress can be slow, but change and improvement can continue for years.

Health.mil offers resources for both patients and clinicians. DVBIC’s A Head for the Future website provides educational materials to encourage prevention and promote recognition and treatment of TBI in the military.

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