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HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
You probably know that fruit, vegetables, and olive oil are healthy foods for your heart, but what about chocolate? For hundreds of years, chocolate—more specifically cacao, the unprocessed cocoa bean—has been considered good for health.
Cocoa is in high in flavanols, plant compounds with antioxidant activity that can help prevent or delay damage caused by free radicals. These antioxidant-rich flavanols are linked to reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some evidence has shown that cocoa can help lower blood pressure, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and improve blood flow.
However, not all chocolate is created equal. In general, the less processing, the more flavanols. Pure, unprocessed cocoa has more flavanols than chocolate, which has sugar, fat, and other additives. Dark chocolate has more flavanols than milk chocolate and white chocolate. But eating enough chocolate products to reach the desired amount of flavanols could require hundreds or even thousands of calories. While all that chocolate may taste great, the extra sugar, fat, and calories are not heart healthy.
Enjoy a square of dark chocolate or a serving of cocoa as part of your day, but the jury’s still out on whether chocolate can really help your heart.
Not everyone is affected the same way by exposure to injury and death. Many who do experience psychological wounds, however, come out stronger as a consequence, and so can you. If you’ve experience a traumatic event or experiences, there can be an upside: It’s called “post-traumatic growth” or PTG. It’s about finding a “new normal” that is even better than how things used to be. PTG can mean better relationships, openness to new possibilities, personal strength, spiritual change, or heightened appreciation of life. In addition (and researchers are still trying to understand why), if you get PTSD, you’re actually more likely to experience PTG. Nobody wants to experience PTSD, but if it happens, you may have an amazing opportunity to come out the other side with some unique strengths.
Relationships are important to total fitness—especially intimate relationships. Think back to the beginning of your relationship—was it filled with lots of passion and intensity? Does it still have those aspects?
There’s been a lot written about the different types of romantic love, and how they change over time. One theory describes two main types of love: passionate and companionate. Passionate love involves an intense feeling of longing for one another. Companionate love happens when you feel affection, tenderness, intimacy, and commitment to your partner. Couples with companionate love often also feel a deep mutual friendship, an ease of companionship and a sharing of common interests. Companionate love does not have to include being attracted to each other or sexual desire.
It’s generally thought that couples begin in passionate love and later morph into companionate love. However, research suggests that romantic love that has intensity, interest, and passion can grow and flourish in relationships over the long run. As with diet and physical fitness, moderation is key. Focus (but don’t fixate) on your partner and foster affection, intimacy (both physical and emotional), and a deep bond. It is possible to be with your partner for a long time—and still experience passion and emotional intimacy with him or her! So set the bar high and strive for it. It is not a myth!
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. But making positive lifestyle choices, especially when it comes to food, can help keep your heart strong and healthy. Keep the following tips in mind whenever you eat out or cook at home:
- Eat more fiber. Fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. High-fiber foods also contain minerals that help manage your blood pressure.
- Choose your fats wisely. Liquid fats such as olive oil and canola oil are considered “heart healthy” fats, whereas solid fats such as butter and animal fat contribute to clogged arteries. Another fat that is good for your heart is omega-3 fatty acid, which is found in salmon and walnuts.
- Monitor your sodium intake. Diets high in sodium put you at risk for high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. Instead of using salt, try spices and herbs to season your food. Salt isn’t the only source of sodium though. Other foods high in sodium include canned soups and sauces, fast food, restaurant food, and deli meats.
A healthy eating plan is just one factor in reducing your risk for heart disease. For information on other ways to improve your heart health, visit healthfinder.gov.
Beets are often overlooked in the produce aisle, but they have been gaining popularity for their potential cardiovascular health and performance benefits. This is because beets contain a high amount of nitrate, which improves blood flow to your heart and muscles. While the performance-enhancing benefits of nitrates from beets have yet to be fully established, there are many other reasons to include beets in your lunch or dinner menu. Beets are a great source of fiber, antioxidants, potassium, magnesium, folic acid, and vitamin C—all important nutrients to keep you at the top of your game.
If beets aren’t your favorite food, there are plenty of other nitrate-rich (and nutrient-rich) vegetables, including arugula, rhubarb, lettuce, celery, radishes, and spinach. Try eating roasted beets or a salad with dark-green, leafy vegetables two to three hours before your next workout. Keep in mind that eating a variety of high-quality foods is key to optimal performance, so for more information on proper fueling, see HPRC’s “An Athlete’s Guide to Everyday Nutrient Timing.”
If you’ve ever worn a cast, you know that the muscles in that area are weak when your cast comes off. Or maybe you’ve experienced this feeling after being bedridden with other injuries. Muscles lose strength from not being used, but there’s more to it than that: Your brain also “forgets” how to send the signals needed to move parts of your body.
Mental imagery helps your brain “remember” how to move your body. When you use imagery that focuses on the physical (not just visual) sensations associated with moving specific muscles, your brain sends the same kinds of signals actually used to move those muscles. Doing imagery while you’re injured may reduce strength loss.
Does this mean that if your elbow is in a cast, or if you simply prefer couch time to working out, you can get bigger biceps just by thinking about doing curls? No, but it does mean that during any stage of recovery from an injury, even before you are able to move, you can play an active role in making rehab go more smoothly. And it reinforces what earlier research tells us: Mental imagery can augment physical practice, helping your body to learn physical skills.
You may know that calcium and vitamin D are important for healthy bones, but do you know that magnesium plays an important role too? People who eat enough magnesium in their diet tend to have higher bone mineral density (a measure of bone strength) than those who do not. Not getting enough magnesium can put you at risk for osteoporosis (weak, fragile bones).
So make sure you get at least the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for magnesium, which is 400–420 mg for men and 310–320 mg for women. According to the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Military Nutrition Research, only 30% of military personnel meet or exceed the recommendations. However, this doesn’t mean you need to start taking magnesium supplements. You can easily get enough magnesium from eating a variety of magnesium-rich foods in each food group:
- Vegetables—dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach
- Fruits—bananas, avocados
- Protein—beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as fish and seafood
- Grains—fortified cereals and whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta
- Dairy—milk, yogurt, and soymilk
As an added benefit, many of these foods are also rich in other nutrients, such as calcium, that help keep your bones strong. For additional information, see the Magnesium Fact Sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements. And for information on other nutrients related to bone health, see HPRC’s Healthy eating for healthy joints.
Drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time—“binge drinking”—can lead to alcohol poisoning. It’s very serious and can even be deadly. Binge drinking involves more than four drinks for women and more than five for men over a relatively short period. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that an average of six people die from alcohol poisoning every day, with the majority being men between 35 and 64 years of age. Life-threatening signs of alcohol poisoning include seizures, not being able to wake up, fewer than eight breaths per minute, 10 seconds or more between breaths, and low body temperature. If you’re with someone who shows any of these signs, seek help immediately. That Guy, an alcohol education campaign from the Department of Defense, recommends that if you’re ever worried about someone’s alcohol intake, never let them “sleep it off.” To learn more, visit this web page from CDC on “Alcohol Poisoning Deaths.”
As your children head to college, it’s hard to know how much to let go and still support them as they tackle new challenges. It’s a major milestone for both kids and parents, and the milestone is especially relevant for Department of Defense parents (80% of whose children go to college, compared to 66% of graduating high school students in the U.S. with non-DoD parents).
During this transition, “helicopter parents” (so-called because they hover) frequently text or call, continue to make decisions for their children, and directly intervene when problems arise between their kids and other people. It makes sense to let go and give your children “space” as they transition into adulthood. After all, how else is your emerging adult supposed to learn self-reliance and financial independence? But protective parenting instincts can overcome what might otherwise make sense.
Helicopter parenting can essentially be an overdose of previously good instincts. To your kids, it can feel as though you’re trying to control how they act or feel. Even though you have good intentions, your behavior may feel intrusive to them, and it might not be obvious that “solving” your kids’ interpersonal, school, or work crises actually causes problems. In fact, helicopter parenting usually leads kids to feel less engaged with college, more anxious and depressed, and less pro-active.
Here are some tips for less-direct ways to help that also keep you grounded instead of “flying away” as a helicopter parent:
- Resist the urge to make decisions for your kid. Instead, ask open-ended questions to get him or her thinking.
- Ask your kid to set his/her own boundaries for how much he or she wants you to intrude (such as how often to text or call), and accept them!
- Encourage your kid to have direct conversations with other important people such as professors.
- Give tips on how to do things such as grocery shopping (rather than just doing it yourself).
- Avoid tracking grades; encourage your kid to set his or her own goals and sub-goals.
If you are a helicopter parent, you don’t have to change radically overnight. But make sure you talk to your kids about the changes you’re planning, and then gradually make them happen. Give your kids more power and autonomy, such that you become a trusted advisor rather than a dictator. The milestone of college isn’t a time for parents to withdraw completely, but it is a time to trust that some of what you taught your children actually sunk in.
Returning to duty after a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI; also referred to as acute concussion) requires a special recovery process. Until now, procedures used by military healthcare professionals were largely based on sports-related mTBI practices, which are not always appropriate for returning Warfighters to military activities and demands. Medical and military experts worked together to develop new recommendations for returning service members to military activity after mild traumatic brain injury. The six-step process includes progressing from rest through light to moderate activity and exercise and eventually to unrestricted activity. Patients cannot progress until they are symptom free at any given stage in the process. Almost 84% of military brain injuries in 2014 were from mTBI/concussions. Some of the most common causes of concussions occur in non-deployed setting. While not all mTBI/concussions are preventable, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk in your day-to-day life:
- Always wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle.
- Wear a helmet when suitable (for example, on a bicycle or motorcycle).
- Create safe living spaces to reduce falls. Remove or secure potentially hazardous items from floors and overhead.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Try these Mind Tactics Performance Strategies to improve your ability to control your attention.