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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

Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D is important for your health. Learn how much you need and where to get it.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone that your body produces when your skin is exposed to sunlight, earning it the nickname “sunshine vitamin.” It plays key roles in reducing your risk of many health conditions, including depression, cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, and others. Spending 10 to 15 minutes outside on a sunny day with your arms and legs uncovered can provide nearly all the vitamin D most people need—challenging when you’re wearing a long-sleeved uniform or working inside all day—but you can also get some vitamin D in your diet from fatty fish (such as salmon), mushrooms, and many fortified foods.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for most individuals is 600 IUs. People who have a vitamin D deficiency or certain medical conditions might require supplemental vitamin D but only under the supervision of their healthcare provider. That’s because excess vitamin D can be stored in your body, putting you at risk for toxicity. Over time, too much vitamin D can lead to irregular heart rhythms, kidney damage, and other serious health problems. If you take large doses of supplemental vitamin D and eat foods that are fortified with it, you could easily obtain more than recommended amounts.

Despite the risk for toxicity, nearly one-fourth of people living in the U.S. have low vitamin D levels, so all adults and children should have their vitamin D status checked by their healthcare provider. For more information about vitamin D, read this fact sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Download the OPSS app

Use the Operation Supplement Safety & Natural Data app to get information and safety ratings on commercially available dietary supplement products and ingredients.

Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is a joint military initiative between the Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC) and the Department of Defense (DoD) to educate service members and retirees, their family members, leaders, healthcare providers, and DoD clinicians about dietary supplements and how to choose them wisely.

OPSS has partnered with Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD) to provide all DoD personnel with access to evidence-based information on dietary supplements, including Natural Medicines Brand Evidence-based Ratings (NMBER)®.

Now there is an Operation Supplement Safety & Natural Data (OPSS & ND) app available that can help you make an informed decision by giving you:

  • Dietary supplement safety and effectiveness (NMBER) ratings.
  • Interaction ratings between drugs and natural medicines, known as “adverse reactions.”
  • Effectiveness ratings for natural medicines by medical condition and more.

To access the app you must first visit HPRC’s link to NMCD and sign up for your free account. Click on the Warfighter version and use your valid .mil email address. Once you’ve created your free account you will have access to the full version of the app. Up-to-date reviews of commercially available products, Natural Medicines Brand Evidence-based Ratings (NMBER)® for commercially available products, an Effectiveness Checker, and more will be at your fingertips.

The OPSS & ND app is available at these links for Android and for iPhone/iPad, or go to the Google or iTunes stores and search for “Operation Supplement Safety.”

If you have questions, please use the “Ask the Expert” button on the OPSS home page.

DOMS: The morning after (a tough workout)

Learn more about soreness after a workout, including ways to help prevent and reduce it yourself.

Have you ever felt great after a hard workout, only to find yourself incredibly sore a day or two later? Muscle pain a day or so after exercise is common among recreational athletes. Known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), this condition can be treated at home—and possibly even prevented—with simple techniques. Strategies to prevent or reduce DOMS include stretching, protein/carbohydrate recovery drinks, and cold-water immersion. Over-the-counter medications can also help with pain but should be used infrequently and at the lowest effective dose. For more detailed information about DOMS and how to prevent and recover from it, read HPRC’s Answer, “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

How much protein do I need?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Nutrition, Protein
Find out how much protein is suggested for different activity levels.

Whether you are an endurance or strength athlete or doing a bit of both to stay in fighting shape, you’re always looking for the optimal amount of protein for your daily needs. How much you need depends on activity level and body weight. See HPRC’s new Protein Infosheet to determine the amounts that are right for you. And for information about what to eat before and after workouts, see HPRC’s Athlete Guide to Nutrient Timing.

 

Depression—Don’t tackle it alone

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Depression isn’t just a lousy mood—it’s a serious illness that needs serious help. Check out some of the special resources for service members, whether it’s for you, a buddy, or a family member.

We’ve all heard of depression. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s easy to think that someone could just snap out of it if they wanted to. Depression doesn’t work like that. It can have an impact on a person in every way—physically, mentally, and emotionally, even extending to relationships—and can range from mild to severe. According to the American Psychological Association, “Depression is more than just sadness. People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.” Depression is an illness considered to be treatable with professional help.

This factsheet from afterdeployment.org details the signs and symptoms of depression. They also have an anonymous online assessment, general information, personal stories shared by those who’ve experienced depression, an interactive workbook that can help you challenge negative thoughts and identify depression triggers, and information about the link between behaviors and mood. Also take a look at the factsheet on Taking Charge of Depression, which includes helpful strategies.

For more information about depression or other mental states that can influence your performance, check out the section of HPRC’s website on depression. However, if you feel you are in crisis, contact the Military Crisis Line—someone is available 24/7 for online chat or via phone at 1-800-273-TALK.

Cope with emotions through mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you to face hard emotions instead of running from them. Learn how here.

Mindfulness can help you feel better equipped to handle difficult emotions. It’s a process geared to help you tune into emotional experiences rather than try to escape from them. People can feel overcome by depression, anxiety, PTSD, addiction, or other mental health problems, which, ironically, can be exacerbated by trying to forget the cause. For example, a Warfighter afflicted with PTSD often relives difficult events through dreams, flashbacks, or unwanted memories, because he/she desperately wants to avoid experiencing those events. To illustrate this idea, right now, try NOT to think of weapons. You probably thought about them that much more.

Practicing mindfulness mediation means focusing on whatever you are experiencing in the present moment. It can be a structured meditation activity, but because mindfulness is about being present, you can purposefully engage in mindfulness anytime, anywhere. A common meditative approach is to focus on a physical experience such as your breathing, noticing where your attention wanders, and gently guiding it back to your breath; it allows you to experience sadness, anger, fear, and other unpleasant emotions, letting them pass without clinging to the idea of making them go away.”

If you have ever “white-knuckled” your way through an amusement park ride (or ridden in a car with a driver you didn’t trust), you may remember thinking, “When will this be over? Please let it be over…” This shows that focusing on how long something lasts can make it feel like an eternity. By engaging in mindfulness, you will feel less threatened by certain emotions, and you will be less likely to engage in problematic forms of escape (such as drinking, drugs, or simply spacing out).

When people experience difficult emotions, they often cope by engaging the language center of the brain, using words internally to wrestle with the experience. But when people have difficulty re-evaluating why they feel the way they do, this leads to a circular internal debate (such as “I shouldn’t feel this way, but I do, but I shouldn’t…”), which can be pointless and can actually cause more distress. Emotions can be dealt with not just through words but also by tapping into their physical elements (noticing how you feel in your body). When people engage in regular mindfulness practice, the parts of their brains tuned into physical sensations are activated while they experience hard emotions. And people who regularly have this part of their brain activated tend to be more emotionally steady.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to escape unwanted emotions. And more problems will probably pop up as you try to escape. But if you’re willing to face hard emotions, letting them come and go like waves on a beach, then mindfulness practice can help you have a different experience. Tune in to HPRC for more mindfulness resources, and take advantage of the fact that mindfulness is everywhere now, whether part of your martial arts or yoga class or filling the self-help shelves of your local bookstore. Become more mindful, and you can feel better equipped to handle tough emotions; your mind and body will engage them more productively.

No pain, no gain?

Higher-intensity exercise—does it do a body good?

The saying goes that “less is more,” but when it comes to exercise intensity, that might not be the case. We know that some exercise is better than no exercise, but is more-intense exercise better than moderate exercise? How hard should you push? And what are the benefits? With the growing popularity of high-intensity workouts, it’s important to consider both the risks and the benefits.

The role of intensity during exercise has been studied before. For example, the risk of death in older adults is lower for those who walk at a faster pace than for those who walk at a more leisurely pace. However, new research demonstrates that pushing yourself during a workout not only helps make you mentally tough but may also release chemicals into your body that help you develop bigger, stronger muscles.

During “stressful” or high-intensity exercise, your body kicks into “fight or flight” mode and releases hormones such as adrenaline and dopamine to push your system into high gear: increased heart rate, increased breathing rate, and increased oxygen to muscles. A recent study found that these hormones, when released during stressful exercise, sent messages to muscle cells to develop larger and more efficient muscles—at least in mice. The body only releases these chemicals when it feels stressed (for example, during intense exercise). If the body doesn’t feel stressed (as during light exercise), it doesn’t release these chemicals, so it can’t send signals to the muscles.

The good news is that exercise intensity is relative, so anyone should be able to exercise at a level that releases these hormones. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned athlete, you can exercise to a level that is intense for you. Shooting for your target heart rate is a good start to gauging intensity. Not every workout needs to top out the intensity scale. In fact, doing too much too often can lead to overtraining and potential injury. Remember to listen to your body and incorporate rest or light days into your workout regimen. 

PTSD can “short-circuit” your brain

Filed under: Mind, Mind tactics, PTSD
PTSD affects the “circuitry” of the brain. Learn how PTSD-affected brains confuse threat and safety.

PTSD was finally recognized as a medical condition when recent advances in neuroscience showed that the brain no longer works properly after trauma. Your brain has an alarm system to help ensure your survival; it’s useful as long as it works properly. When the alarm system malfunctions because traumatic events pushed it to its limits, the part of the brain responsible for thinking and memory can’t function properly. When this happens, a person with PTSD can’t compare what’s happening now with events in the past when they were safe. However, there are treatments to help “rewire” the brain, so it can work properly again. Learn more about this in “How is your brain’s circuitry affected by PTSD?”

Why is ephedra illegal?

Read about ephedra, and why it is illegal in the United States.

Dietary supplements containing ephedra are illegal. What is ephedra and why is it illegal in the United States? Read HPRC’s new Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about ephedra to find out.

Also, be sure to check out our other OPSS FAQs, and if you still can’t find what you are looking for, use our “As the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

Happy 224th, U.S. Coast Guard!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
In honor of the anniversary of USCG, take a moment to learn a little about the background and mission of this essential branch of the U.S. armed forces.

On the 4th of August 2014, the United States Coast Guard will be 224 years old. The Coast Guard actually began as the Revenue-Marine, later renamed the Revenue Cutter Service, under the Department of the Treasury. Its original mission was to control the seagoing smuggling that was rampant in the years following the founding of the United States. Needing money to fuel the fledgling country, the Treasury used the Revenue Cutter Service to patrol the shores and ensure that importers paid tariffs on their goods.

For its first eight years, following founding in 1790, this was the U.S.’s only maritime armed service because the Navy had been disbanded after the Revolutionary War. During the War of 1812, after the Navy had been re-formed, the Revenue-Marine was put into military service under command of the Navy. This set a precedent in which the Cutter Service alternated between peacetime missions under the Treasury to control shoreline smuggling and piracy and wartime military operations under the Navy.

The U.S. Life-Saving Service was also part of USCG’s ancestry. Founded in 1848, this agency grew out of a Massachusetts volunteer service, whose aim was to help shipwrecked mariners. The Service operated out of shore-based stations that spread southwards from New England after the Great Carolina Hurricane of 1854 brought recognition and federal funding. In 1878, the Life-Saving Service was formed as a federal agency under the Department of the Treasury.

In 1915, the Revenue Cutter Service and the Life-Saving Service merged to form the United States Coast Guard, which later absorbed other marine-related Treasury agencies. Its scope expanded to cover smuggling, maritime rescue, shipping regulation, and wartime naval combat support and coastal protection. In 2003, the Coast Guard’s protective position was brought to the fore when it was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security.

This August 4th, take a moment to thank the members of our U.S. Coast Guard for all they do!

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