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
Not only is exercise good for the body, it’s good for the mind. The expert consensus from the International Society of Sport Psychology is that exercise can increase your sense of well-being and help reduce anxiety, tension, and depression.
For veterans coping with depression, PTSD, or other mental-health issues, sports and exercise may be a great way to relieve stress. Scientists have shown the positive benefits of physical activity on symptoms of depression in veterans. What’s more, Veterans’ Administration studies have found that physical activity—especially vigorous activity—can decrease the risk of PTSD among Warfighters. The opposite is also true: Veterans who do not engage in physical activity are more likely to experience PTSD. Several organizations specialize in physical activity and exercise for warriors and their families, but you can always try a yoga class, a family bike ride, or other fitness opportunities in your community.
Getting motivated to exercise and stay active can be especially difficult for those suffering from PTSD and depression. Here are some tips to help you get up and get out the door.
- Make a date with yourself. Put it on your calendar or set a daily alarm—whatever you need to do to remind yourself that you’ve set aside some time for you to exercise. And don’t stand yourself up!
- Set a SMART goal and write it down. Post it on your bathroom mirror, your fridge, your car dashboard—wherever you’ll see it daily to remind yourself of what you want to accomplish.
- Recruit friends or family members to help. Telling people what your goals are is a great way to stay accountable. An exercise partner is especially helpful when you need that extra nudge to get off the couch and start moving.
- Keep a journal. Record your exercise activities and how you felt afterwards. While you may not feel better after every workout, you probably will most of the time. Being able to go back and read/remember how good exercise made you feel may motivate you for the next workout.
As we’ve highlighted before, pets bring special benefits to their humans. But is there a “logical” explanation for why the human-animal connection is so rewarding? Some scientists think that physical contact with your pet (especially a dog)—such as stroking or holding the animal on your lap—as well as having a relationship with that animal (that is, knowing and caring for the pet) are two components that make the owner-pet relationship therapeutic. It appears that these can lead to an increase in a “feel-good” hormone (oxytocin) in humans. (Check out last week’s post to learn about oxytocin and its impact on human relationships.) As little as five minutes of stroking a dog can result in a measurable increase in oxytocin levels. While it works for most people with any animal, the effect is stronger if the animal is one’s own pet. In fact, the closer the relationship (including affectionate behavior), the more oxytocin is released. Researchers caution, though, that this effect doesn’t work in those who don’t like animals, a finding that needs more research.
Wanting some holistic strategies to enhance your performance? Check out the “One Shot One Kill (OSOK) Performance Enhancement Program” that shows Warfighters how to set up and manage their own performance-enhancement system. OSOK is designed not only to enhance performance but also to jumpstart Warfighter resilience. It builds on the skills that Warfighters already possess and then teaches new ones as needed.
There are two ways you can use OSOK: as an individual through “OSOK Solo” and as a unit/group through “OSOK-IP Unit.” Both highlight “10 Rules of Engagement” and provide seven core modules: Controlled Response, Mind Tactics, Performance-Based Nutrition, Primal Fitness, Purpose, Code, and Recharge. OSOK also provides self-assessment forms so you can track your progress over time.
For other performance-enhancement programs and information about holistic (total) fitness, check out HPRC’s Total Force Fitness domain.
You may have heard about the Body Mass Index (BMI), but do you really know what it is? BMI is an indicator of body fat for most adults—a screening tool for possible health problems. BMI is calculated using weight and height, and depending on the number, the result is categorized into underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. The higher the BMI, the higher the risk of certain diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an adult BMI calculator, child and teen BMI calculator, and information for interpreting the numbers.
On January 14, 2014 the Marine Corps released MARADMIN 010/14, which details the new requirements for the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group. Marines who want to travel the globe and provide security services for U.S. embassies and consulates now have to meet new, revised standards. Among other things, Marines must be at least 64 inches tall so they can adequately view all areas from Post One (point of entry control at diplomatic posts). In addition, physical fitness standards have changed: Marines will have to achieve 1st Class PFT scores. If you haven’t yet achieved this level of fitness, we have some tips. First and foremost, for optimal fitness, be sure to train smarter, not harder.
Think about your feelings of connection in an intimate relationship, or the last time you were physically intimate with your loved one, and how you felt afterwards. Did you feel a flood of happiness, a feeling of closeness, or a sense of bonding? There is actually a physical reason behind some of these sensations: the hormone oxytocin.
Your body releases oxytocin into your blood and brain in response to sex, breastfeeding, and childbirth, as well as everyday behaviors such as touching and stroking—usually in trusting relationships. Oxytocin promotes social bonds; that is, it makes you feel “close” (emotionally) to another person, and it makes you feel good. Specifically, it increases eye contact, your ability to remember faces, and feelings of trust, generosity, and empathy. Other benefits of oxytocin include reduced aggression and stress and increased bonding, especially maternal bonding after birth. In fact, oxytocin is so effective at making you feel good and loving that it’s often called the “love hormone” or the “cuddle drug.”
With Valentine’s Day approaching this week, many of you have love on your brains. So now you can think about it from a deeper perspective: how oxytocin plays a role in your love life.
Some intense military training, such as in the Special Operations Forces, screens personnel by ultimately selecting those who can handle extreme adversity. In fact, how you view stress can have a big impact on whether the stress you experience is helpful or not. When you have a positive interpretation of your stress—that is, “eustress”—you may feel “amped up” enough to perform your best without experiencing any negative effects.
How do you experience stress in a positive manner? Try reframing it. Your situation doesn’t have to “suck”—it can just be a challenge that ultimately helps you grow more resilient. When you use this approach, it’s easier to take on whatever comes your way instead of engaging in unhelpful practices that may just increase your stress. Learn to find meaning in what’s difficult with your word choices. Here are some examples of statements you may find helpful:
- “Go beyond!”
- “I can!”
- “I am!”
- “Makes me stronger.”
- “For my buddies.”
- “For good.” (Or if you are spiritual, “For God.”)
- “Feel it!”
- “Dig deep.”
- “You got it!”
- “It’s all good.”
The list goes on. Figure out what words or phrases help you switch from seeing stress as a negative to feeling it’s just another challenge to tackle.
For more information on how to handle stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.
HPRC recently posted an article with questions that parents of deploying Warfighters need to ask, but families of National Guard and Reserve Warfighters have additional challenges when their Warfighter deploys (such as being away from support at installations, financial changes, and shifts in childcare). It can help to think through some of these challenges and come up with a game plan ahead of time. Here are some examples to start with:
- Who needs to know about the upcoming deployment? (Teachers, doctors…)
- What’s the plan in case of an emergency (either stateside or while deployed)?
- Will the childcare arrangements need to shift during deployment? (This is especially important for single parents.)
- Will family income be reduced? Who will manage finances during this time?
- How will family members keep in touch with the deployed Warfighter? Does everyone in the family agree, or are there individual preferences? (For example, your oldest child may prefer to Skype rather than write letters.)
- Are there any military support organizations those at home can use for extra support?
- Will any holidays or birthdays be missed during the deployment? If so, maybe something special can be done ahead of time and saved for the specific day.
For more information on resources for before, during, and after deployment, check out the “Families & Deployment“ section of HPRC’s website.
Many Warfighters relocate a lot, and moving to a new home is hard enough without the added stress of an injury. Here are some tips on how to properly lift and push/pull heavy objects such as moving boxes and furniture, and how to take care of yourself if you do sustain an injury:
- Wear less-restrictive clothing such as looser-fitting pants or workout clothes.
- Wear closed-toed shoes.
- Take breaks when necessary. Stretching and reassessing your mechanics can help you maintain proper posture when lifting. HPRC has tips on how to maintain flexibility and remove tension in your body.
- The U.S. Army has some additional Lifting Techniques for handling heavy objects.
- Remember to keep your core tight and use your leg muscles rather than your back to lift heavy objects.
The best way to prevent back injury is to strengthen your back and core muscles. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has suggestions and exercises to help build your back.
If you’re sore from all the lifting or think you may have pulled something, you can treat the pain with ice and rest—and perhaps an over-the-counter pain reliever—for the first 48 hours. Follow the NIH guidelines on how to further treat your back pain if it’s acute. However, if the pain persists, consult your doctor to rule out a more serious back problem or injury before you do any more heavy lifting. If all seems well, consider core-strengthening exercises to support your back. Taking a yoga class to relieve your pain, build your muscles, and return your back to normal function is a good option. In a recent large study of adults with chronic low back pain, those who participated in yoga classes saw reduced pain symptoms and improved mobility that lasted for several months.
For more about how to protect your back, please visit HPRC’s Injury Prevention Series. Good luck with your PCS!
Routines often help performance, and some of the world’s best athletes have scripted routines that begin with what time they wake up. This type of rigid approach can be useful when the environment is predictable. Top performers find that routines can help shift them from the stressful anticipation of how things are going to turn out to a focus on what’s most important in that moment; in other words, routines can provide an escape from anxiety. But overly rigid routines can morph a helpful tool into a superstitious or obsessive ritual. The best athletes regard flexibility and adaptation as crucial to their own, often finely honed, routines. With Warfighters, for whom crises are part of the job, the best teams are able to go “off-script” when needed in order to work together most effectively.
For more information on mental aspects of performance check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.