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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

Apps and more for military kids

Learn about some great apps for military kids to manage stress and the military lifestyle well.

Most military children will at some point experience stress related to being part of a military family. Fortunately, there are numerous online resources to help military kids and their parents learn important coping skills, especially for when a parent returns from a deployment. A parent can load apps such as the following on their phone and then hand it to their child:

  • Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame (for Apple and Android) teaches children coping skills through breathing and more,
  • The Big Moving Adventure (for Apple and Android) teaches children about moving (how to pack up their toys, say goodbye to friends, etc.).
  • Focus on the Go (for Apple and Android) teaches children how to manage their feelings in helpful ways.

Military Kids Connect (MKC) is a Department of Defense program aimed at improving quality of life for military children of various ages. The site helps parents, caregivers, children, and the child’s peer community to talk about issues and learn coping skills through a variety of apps (Apple, Android, and Kindle) and online tools.

HPRC’s Family Resilience “Tools, Apps, & Videos” section includes links to more programs (such as FOCUS World and Sesame Street) and apps. But don’t forget: As with any online activities, monitor your children and be vigilant against cyber threats.

Listen to your heart

With special equipment, you can manage your emotional stress as well as the timing and intensity of your physical training.

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.

Hemp products: Are they allowed?

Find out if service members are allowed to consume products made with some form of hemp.

Hemp, or Cannabis sativa, is the plant that naturally contains the substance tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) although the chemical can also be produced in a laboratory. Historically, the hemp plant has been used for fiber in clothing, rope, paper, etc., as well as for nutritional, medicinal, and recreational purposes.

According to a 2015 report on hemp prepared for Congress, different varieties (and parts) of the cannabis plant are grown and used for different purposes. “Industrial hemp”—the kind grown for agricultural crops (including in foods, beverages, and dietary supplements)—is typically less than 1% THC. Cannabis grown to produce marijuana usually contains around 10% (but can exceed 30%) THC in the parts of the plant used.

DoD policy as set in DoDI 1010.01 specifically mentions marijuana, “synthetic cannabinoids,” and controlled substances (which include THC), but does not mention hemp per se, and test levels for THC are described in DoDI 1010.16. However, each military service has its own policy on the use of hemp products:

  • Air Force: AFI 90-507, section 1.1.6, states that “the ingestion of products containing or products derived from hemp seed or hemp seed oil is prohibited.”
  • Army: Army Substance Abuse Program, AR600-85, section 4-2p states “this regulation prohibits Soldiers from using Hemp or products containing Hemp oil.”
  • Navy: OPNAVINST 5350.4d, Drug Testing Program, Enclosure (2), states that the “Navy has ‘zero tolerance’ for...the wrongful use, possession, manufacture, or distribution of a controlled substance,” which includes marijuana and THC. The Navy does not have a formal policy on the use of hemp products in food.
  • Coast Guard: ALCOAST 026/99 and COMDTINST M1000.10, section 3.A, state that “ingestion of hemp oil or products made with hemp oil is misconduct that will not be tolerated in the Coast Guard.”

Currently, hemp seeds are being added to a variety of foods (such as yogurt, energy bars, etc.), and based on service policies, such products are prohibited.

For more answers to common questions we’ve received about dietary supplements, please visit our Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs.

Spring cleaning—a mindful approach

Practice mindfulness to help clear out the clutter in your home that weighs you down.

If you’re in the military, you know you may have to move at almost any time, so you try to avoid accumulating things you don’t want to move with you. But whether you’re moving or not, spring is a great time to get rid of the clutter in your home.

 

There are many resources to help you get organized. But the hard part can be letting go of “stuff” you may be attached to emotionally. The memories pull at you, so the closets stay packed. So why get rid of things? It can save your sanity and lighten your load.

Consider a “mindful” approach to your spring cleaning. The self-compassion and non-judgment of many meditation practices can help you deal head-on with the emotional connections you may have to your stuff. This approach raises your awareness of attachment to belongings. You can see the memories, connections, love, and bonds that the items represent. And then you get to practice self-observation in the moment of letting things go.

How do you do it? Try this meditation: As you sort through items that literally weigh you down and debate whether to keep something, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is this object really adding value to my life?
  • Do I need this thing to remind me of a pet, friend, or special time?
  • Can I accept that the object is not a substitute for a person or memory?
  • Can I take a photo of it and then let it go?
  • Can I imagine myself free from this object?
  • Would letting it go mean I no longer care?

Only you can answer these questions for yourself. The balance between holding on and letting go is very personal. Use gentleness and compassion with yourself as you move through this exercise and practice being mindful.

Avoiding grains? Think again.

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Whole grains are an essential part of a healthy diet and have known health benefits. Avoiding them is unnecessary.

If you’re avoiding grains due to a particular diet plan, or if you think you have to exclude grains due to gluten sensitivities, you may want to think again. HPRC has put together a table of grains (with and without gluten) and their basic nutrients to point out how nutritious grains can be. Even for those who are gluten-free or sensitive to gluten, the table shows there are plenty of healthy, gluten-free options to incorporate into your diet.

As the table indicates, whole grains are very nutrient dense: They contain fiber, vitamins such as niacin and folate (and other B vitamins), minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and selenium, as well as protein and branched-chain amino acids.

A diet rich in whole grains has been associated with lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Paleo diet followers, as well as those who are following a gluten-free diet, need not eliminate whole grains from their diet. The benefits are vast, with many choices for a varied diet. For more information about whole grains, see the ChooseMyPlate.gov resource, “Why is it important to eat grains, especially whole grains?

Grains Table [JPG]

Families that play together, stay together

Maximize your family’s together time with fun activities that help you unplug and bond!

All families need to spend some time together to help build strong family bonds. There is no right way or ideal amount of time. Some families like to spend all their free time together, while others may spend a bit of time together throughout the week or dedicate some family time on a consistent basis. But it’s easy to get wrapped up in other things so we spend all our time on work, bills, cleaning house, scheduled activities, or other responsibilities, and family time goes by the wayside.

Think about your own family. Do you have enough time together? What kind of time is it? Is everyone on a phone, computer, tablet, or television? Try unplugging and going outdoors, playing a board game, or getting together and giving everybody five minutes to talk about what they like about each other. You could let your children (if they’re old enough) pick what they want to do on their family day out, and then everyone else needs to come along and make the most of it. If part of your family is deployed, you should still schedule family bonding time. Some of your family time can be spent making things to send to your deployed family member or documenting your fun time with photos or videos.

Stressed just thinking about how to add in some good family time? Just make the most of what you have by focusing on each other without extra distractions!

Make orange your main squeeze

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Orange is bright, colorful, delicious, and healthy! Fruits and vegetables with an orange hue are excellent fuel to keep you performing all year long.

Bright orange fruits and vegetables contain performance-boosting nutrients and should be included as part of your colorful plate. You may just imagine oranges and carrots when you think orange, but orange includes vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, orange peppers, and fruits such as mango (the most widely consumed fruit in the world), peaches, apricots, papayas, cantaloupe, and persimmon.

Vitamin C, fiber, potassium, and folic acid are just some of the powerful nutrients found in many orange fruits and vegetables. The bright orange color is due to the phytochemicals (plant compounds) carotenoids. Beta-carotene, which your body converts to vitamin A, gives yellow and orange vegetables their rich color and supports your immune function, promotes eye and heart health, and reduces the risk of cancer.

There are plenty of ways to incorporate more orange on your plate at any meal. For breakfast, add sliced orange, mango, peach, cantaloupe, or papaya to your cereal or in a homemade smoothie; for lunch, top your salad with chopped orange peppers or shredded carrots; and for a healthy version of fries at dinner slice sweet potatoes, sprinkle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake.  

What is bitter orange?

Bitter orange, synephrine, and octopamine are three ingredients I’ve seen a lot on Supplement Facts panels and labels. What are they?

Bitter orange is an extract from the immature green fruit of the Citrus aurantium plant, also known as Seville orange. It is sometimes used in small amounts in food as a flavorant and often used in weight-loss supplements. The terms “bitter orange,” “bitter orange extract,” or “Citrus aurantium” are often used interchangeably with the ingredient name “synephrine,” but bitter orange (the extract from Citrus aurantium fruit) is actually a complex mixture of many compounds, including synephrine and octopamine. Although both synephrine and octopamine occur naturally in the Citrus aurantium plant, they also can be made in a laboratory.

Many safety concerns have been raised with regard to synephrine and octopamine, which are both stimulants. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) bans both of them, but the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) bans only octopamine. Bitter orange is frequently used in "ephedra-free" products since 2004, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned ephedra for its association with serious adverse cardiovascular effects. Combinations of stimulants—such as bitter orange and caffeine, commonly found together in weight-loss and bodybuilding products—can cause hypertension and increase heart rate in otherwise healthy adults. A major concern with products that list bitter orange (or synephrine, or octopamine) on the label is that the amount of stimulants in the product is sometimes very difficult—if not impossible—to determine. Service members should exercise extreme caution when considering whether to use supplements containing bitter orange.

No conclusive, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence clearly establishes that bitter orange is any safer than ephedra. For more information on bitter orange and ephedra, read the monographs in HPRC’s Dietary Supplement Classification System series.

For more answers to common questions we’ve received about dietary supplements, please visit our Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQs.

Is your Achilles tendon an uphill battle?

The Achilles tendon is stronger than you think, even when running hills.

The Achilles tendon (on the back of your ankle) is a common site for injury, especially for runners. And many people think running hills increases the likelihood of injuring their Achilles. Hill running provides many health benefits (cardiovascular endurance, strength, performance, etc.), but do the benefits outweigh the risk to your ankles? For the most part, the answer is, yes! The effects on your Achilles tendon while running on a flat surface, uphill, and downhill are all similar, meaning the risk of injury is no greater when running uphill or downhill than on the flat. Achilles injuries usually happen because of a combination of internal (ankle misalignment, muscle weakness, decreased flexibility) and external factors (footwear, over training, humidity, altitude). With movement, however, the Achilles tendon becomes more flexible, so a proper warm-up before exercise will help prevent injury.

What this suggests is that running hills isn’t necessarily a cause of injury to the Achilles tendon. More likely causes include progressing too quickly as a new athlete or not properly recovering from an injury. If you’re recovering from a previous injury to your Achilles tendon, talk to your doctor or therapist about when it’s safe to run again and how much hill running you are able to do. Be gradual in your return to running, especially hills. Don’t try to sprint up or down anything too steep too soon. But as long as you’re healthy, at your next hill encounter, be confident and take it on; your body is more likely to benefit than not.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Learn how to recognize and prevent eye problems associated with extended computer monitor use.

As you read this article right now, your eyes are working harder than they would if you were reading a book or even watching TV. Attention, desk warriors! If you stare at a computer for most of the day, you could leave work experiencing dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. 90% of people who work on a computer experience symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. Symptoms include blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, eye strain, irritation, redness, and any number of other ocular symptoms.

Computers have become a necessity in our world, so monitors are here to stay. Here are some of the causes of CVS and some tips to help you protect your eyes from the screen:

  • Blinking. One of the main symptoms of CVS is eye dryness. This occurs for two reasons: First, your eyes are focusing on the same depth of field for an extended period of time; second, unlike the non-stop action on a TV screen, there may be little movement happening on your computer screen. The lack of movement and constant field depth leads to less blinking and, therefore, eye dryness.
    Fix it
    by spending 30 seconds every hour or so adjusting your eyes to something far away. If you work in a small office, put up a picture and focus on something small in the background. This change in depth of field will exercise your eyes, and you’ll blink more!
  • Monitors. The pixels on a computer screen can cause some problems. Because they are not all the same brightness, they don’t produce the same contrast. And they can cause words or pictures on the screen to look fuzzy, straining your eyes and contributing to CVS.
    Fix it
    by investing in a good LCD monitor if you have not done so already. LCD monitors reduce glare and contrast, as compared with older types of monitors. If you already have an LCD monitor, then talk to an ophthalmologist about getting some reading glasses to help reduce eye strain. Adjusting the lighting in the room and/or on your computer screen can also help soften the symptoms of CVS.
  • Existing vision problems. You may already have a vision problem that went undiagnosed until you started staring at a computer. Extended computer use can exaggerate already existing eye conditions and lead to some of the symptoms of CVS.
    Fix it
    by talking to a physician about corrective lenses. The Vision Center of Excellence has excellent resources from the VA and DoD for vision support.

In summary: Protect your eyes from CVS by taking frequent breaks from the computer, by blinking more often, and by making sure you work in an ergonomically efficient office setup. If you want to more information about CVS, check out “A Survival Guide to Computer Workstations.”

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