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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

Intermittent fasting—long-term results?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Intermittent fasting has become a popular way to lose weight. But it is an effective and, more important, safe way to lose weight?

Intermittent fasting has become a popular strategy for weight loss. “Fasting” can mean different things—from fasting as much as 16 hours per day to skipping or restricting caloric intake (for example, to less than 500–600 calories) one or two days a week. Fasting programs may make promises to their followers to lose weight and improve health, but are they safe and effective?

The health benefits claimed for intermittent fasting have mostly come from studies with animals. A few small studies with humans have shown intermittent fasting—eating as usual five days a week and eating 25% less two days per week—may be useful for weight loss. Because these studies were short term, however, the long-term safety and effectiveness of intermittent fasting are unknown.

In addition, it is unclear if intermittent fasting is more effective for weight loss than just eating less on a daily basis. Intermittent fasting could lead to overeating on non-fasting days, and even advocates of intermittent fasting point out that the key to weight-loss success is not to overeat on “normal” eating days.

Eating too few calories over time can result in low levels of vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients, and even the loss of muscle mass. And intermittent fasting can be dangerous for people with medical conditions such as pregnancy, diabetes, or eating disorders.

Common side effects of fasting include lack of energy, headaches, feeling cold, and constipation. Fasting can cause low blood sugar if you aren’t getting enough fuel to your brain, reducing your ability to concentrate and focus and affecting your sleep cycle and mood. These effects can interfere with your body’s ability to perform optimally.

Athletes who fast during Ramadan—a holy month when Muslims are expected to fast daily (no food or water) from pre-dawn prayer to post-sunset—provide some insights into the effects of fasting on performance. The limited intake of carbohydrates, protein, and fluid during fasting days sometimes affects their bodies’ ability to recover from exercise. Some found that their cognitive performance suffered as well due to the effects of even mild dehydration and inadequate carbohydrate intake. Exercise that is both physically and mentally challenging and long-lasting could have even greater negative effects.

Intermittent fasting may be unrealistic for long-term use. Reducing your overall caloric intake and a regular exercise program are the best combination for weight loss. 

Assistive technology for total fitness

Returning injured service members to their highest level of function sometimes requires the use of “assistive technology.” Read about the many options available to today’s Warfighters.

For some injured Warfighters, achieving total fitness may include assistive technology (AT). Assistive technology is any physical equipment or system used to improve or help maintain the functional abilities of an individual. There are assistive technologies for almost every disability or injury, such as communication boards, both manual and electronic; technology for vision and hearing impairments (magnifiers, talking watches, hearing aids); tools to assist daily tasks (shower chair, adapted eating utensils); adaptive sports equipment (sit-skis, sport wheelchairs, recumbent tricycles); and technologies that enable mobility (from a cane or walker to sophisticated prosthetic legs and powered wheelchairs). Driving aids and fully equipped vans are other important assistive mobile technologies. Mobile assistive technology can promote independence and increased quality of life. Even phones and apps can be used as memory aids and organization- and time-management tools for helping with traumatic brain injury and psychological health. If you’re an injured Warfighter looking at the possibility of AT (or if you just want to know more), there are many things to consider when choosing the right AT for you, including:

  • First and foremost, understand your own goals, priorities, and preferences and discuss them with your healthcare team. A person’s reaction to AT is both personal and complex. You must be closely involved in the choice of your assistive technology to ensure a “good match.”
  • Consider where you will be using your assistive technology (indoors or outdoors).
  • Consider how you will feel about using your equipment. AT equipment shouldn’t be embarrassing, inconvenient, or cumbersome.
  • Have you accepted your challenge, and are you ready to move forward? Finding a "new normal" to accomplish your goals may include using assistive technology, but you must first embrace this concept.

For those who can benefit, AT can be a big piece of Human Performance Optimization (HPO), part of HPRC’s Total Force Fitness mission.

Injury prevention: How to avoid “text neck”

Don’t let your phone be a pain in the neck.

Look around you. How many people do you see looking down at their smartphones? Are you reading this article on your phone or tablet? Most people look down at their phones while reading or texting. The problem with this posture it can be a major pain in the neck—literally. Doctors and researchers are calling it “text neck,” and they’re saying that this poor posture while looking at your phone is causing early wear and tear to the spine. The human head weighs about 10 to 12 pounds. Looking straight ahead doesn’t add any strain to your spine, but as you tilt your head forward, the weight of your head begins to increase the strain on your neck and spine. Even a slight, 15-degree angle increases the weight on your spine to 27 pounds. Looking down at 60 degrees? That’s about 60 pounds. Think about carrying a couple of 30-pound ammo cans around your neck for several hours a day.

To limit your risk for text neck, look down at your device with your eyes, not your head. Better yet, hold your device up to eye level. Be aware of your posture and try adding daily exercises that strengthen your back, neck, and shoulders.

The mind-body ABCs: Three steps to awareness

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Learning to develop an awareness of your thoughts and how they interact with your emotions —for improved performance—may seem easy as ABC, but like other skills, it takes practice! Learn the ABCs of performance.

If you’ve ever gotten up to speak in front of a crowd or waited to take a test, you’re already aware of how your thoughts, bodily sensations, and emotions can overcome you if you’re not aware of them or if you try to erase them. These are obvious examples, but this “mind-body interaction” is at work all the time, often in subtle ways. Thoughts can impact your emotions, how you feel physically, and even how you behave.

Here’s an example: You test for the APRT on a day when you’re sick and score worse than your previous time. You could possibly think, “I stink,” and feel defeated and worse than you did before the test, subsequently putting less effort into the next one. Or you could think, “Not bad for being sick; let’s see what I’m made of next time!” and likely feel excited and more energized to put in necessary training. The list of possible thoughts in response to this event is endless, and each thought has a different emotion, body feeling, and behavior attached to it.

When you’re not aware of what your internal experiences are to begin with, thoughts, moods, signals from your body, and your behavior can come together to form the “perfect storm” of stress, which can impact immediate and future performances. By being aware of each thought, mood, sensation, and behavior, you can slow the storm down and have more influence over what you do and how you perform. Avoid running on autopilot.

The “Mind-Body ABCs” is a technique that can help. Pay attention to some situations where performance matters, and log the following:

“A” stands for Activating Event—the event or situation you’re currently in (or looking at afterwards) that triggers subtle responses from your mind and body.

“B” represents Belief—your thoughts about that situation. Imagine yourself as a cartoon in the Sunday comics with a thought bubble over your head. Your “belief” about the situation you’re in is represented by what’s written or drawn in the bubble.

“C” is for Consequences—how your thoughts affect your mood, body sensations, and behaviors. Notice the specific emotion you’re feeling (such as fear, anger, or even happiness), what’s happening in your body (such as butterflies, tensing up, or letting go), and what you feel pulled to do (such as hiding from the situation, arguing, or giving your best effort).

For each ABC, try to tune into one Activating event, one Belief, and a short list of Consequences (emotions, body feelings, and behaviors). Rather than trying to log all this in your head, use HPRC’s new Mind-Body ABCs Worksheet or make a similar chart in a journal and practice tracking your own ABCs (and alternative responses to the same A) every day. 

Celebrate the Army National Guard!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Army, National Guard
On December 13, the National Guard will be celebrating its 378th birthday! That’s right—378 years since founding.

The Army National Guard actually counts 1636 as its founding year, which makes it significantly older than the United States itself. The Massachusetts Bay Colony formed three permanent militia regiments to provide organized defense of the colony; the date of the General Court order was December 13. These regiments still exist as the Massachusetts Army National Guard, now as four units: the 101st Engineer Battalion, the 101st Field Artillery Regiment, the 181st Infantry Regiment, and the 182nd Infantry Regiment.

As colonies developed along the eastern shores and then inland, they formed their individual militia and organized themselves along regimental lines. After the formation of the U.S., militia were organized by the individual states; for much of the 19th century, the U.S. had no national standing army. The name “National Guard” was originally adopted by the 2nd Battalion, 11th New York Artillery, during the War of 1812, in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette of the French National Guard. The name was officially adopted for all state militia with the Militia Act of 1903. In 1933, the state militia joined the National Guard of the United States, a reserve force of the U.S. Army.

So how is it that the Army National Guard can be older than the U.S. Army? Our founding fathers saw fit to recognize the contributions of the states’ militia when they passed the Militia Act of May 8, 1792, which enabled pre-existing militia units to retain their “customary privileges.” Subsequent acts of Congress have perpetuated this.

Militia units have participated in every U.S. military action since 1636, including the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and now into the 21st. National Guard units also participate in domestic peacekeeping activities and assist with the aftermath of natural disasters. So on December 13, take a moment to learn more about what our Army National Guard is up to by visiting the Guard News and Overseas Operations pages on the National Guard website.

A Mother’s Plea

Watch HPRC’s new Operation Supplement Safety Public Service Announcement from a Gold Star mother.

In a new Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) PSA video, Gold Star mother Ms. Terri Bellamy-Coleman urges service members to seek out information and guidance on dietary supplements from the appropriate sources before taking them. Ms. Bellamy-Coleman’s son, who was attending the NCO (Noncommissioned Officer Academy, WLC (Warrior Leadership Course) in Fort Benning, GA at the time of his death, had been taking dietary supplements when he exerted himself during physical training, suffered a heart arrhythmia, and died. He had the sickle-cell trait, which may have aggravated the situation. She wants others to be aware of the possible risks associated with dietary supplements, especially when certain medical conditions are present, and urges service members to seek information to help prevent possible harmful health effects. Please watch the video, “A Mother’s Plea."

Vegetarian diets—go for greens!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Learn more about vegetarian diets and how they fit into a healthy lifestyle, even in the military.

There are various types of vegetarian diets, all of which exclude meat, while some also exclude fish, poultry, and other animal products. Although fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, many of them are short on certain nutrients (such as protein). Being a vegetarian in the military can be challenging, but with proper planning—beginning with the right information from HPRC’s "Vegetarian diets – the basics"—a vegetarian diet can meet all of your nutritional needs.

Not only can plant-based diets be nutritionally complete, they also tend to be high in fiber and low in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol. Thus, vegetarian diets offer a wealth of health benefits, including decreased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. As an added bonus, many vegetarian food options are considered “Green” foods under the Go for Green® program, which means you can eat these foods at every meal. Just be mindful of the amount of canned, fried, or dried (with added sugars) items you choose.

For more information on vegetarian diets, and for recipe ideas, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Vegetarian Nutrition web page and the MyPlate Tips for Vegetarians.

Can I take weight-loss prescription medications?

What are the service-specific policies on weight-loss prescription medications? Read more to find out.

Weight-loss (diet) prescription medications are generally not permitted, but it’s important to check your service’s policy for specific conditions that may exist. Read this OPSS FAQ to find out more details, including links to specific policies. Also, be sure to check the OPSS site often, as we add answers to other questions about ingredients in performance-enhancing and bodybuilding supplements and how to choose supplements safely.

If you have a question about a particular dietary supplement ingredient or product, please use our “Ask the Expert” button located on the OPSS home page.

Don’t be holi-dazed & confused about food safety

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
The kitchen can be hectic during the holidays. Here are some helpful tips to keep your food, your family, and your holiday guests safe.

Do you know that one in six Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses each year? Thankfully, there are safety tips and techniques that can help you prevent such incidents. Here are some quick and easy tips to remember:

Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces thoroughly and frequently with hot, soapy water.

Separate: When shopping, preparing, and storing your meals, be sure to keep raw meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from other foods that won’t be cooked to prevent cross-contamination.

Cook: Use a food thermometer to ensure that your meats are cooked to the right temperature (165°F for turkey).

Chill: Don’t leave leftovers (including raw and cooked items, such as pies) out on the table for more than two hours. Promptly refrigerate these items, and use or discard leftovers within three to four days.

If food looks or smells questionable, a good rule of thumb to follow is, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

For more information on food safety, visit the Food and Drug Administration’s web page on Food Safety Tips for Healthy Holidays.

Balance your materialism this gift season

Filed under: Families, Holidays
In this season of buying, take a moment to learn about the science behind materialism and its link to your well-being.

With the holidays, sales, and gift-giving (and receiving) upon us, material items may be on your radar more than usual. Thinking about what to get for your significant other, parents, children, friends, and/or coworkers is on many people’s to-do lists. But where should we draw the line with materialism—that focus on the status symbols of money and possessions? And does having more really make us happier?

Ironically, some research has shown that materialism actually relates to feelings of lower well-being. Being more focused on material things can lead to greater feelings of insecurity and “neediness.” Interestingly, this doesn’t depend on personal or household income (though few studies included multimillionaires or the homeless). But it does suggest that materialism is an effect not of wealth but of one’s attitude towards material things.

This isn’t the same as the desire for money or financial success. Believing that money is important can actually improve your well-being. But your sense of well-being can suffer if you link your desire for money with status, image, success, and happiness.

So this holiday season, strike the balance that works for you and your family as to how much you should focus on material items versus other (spiritual, mental, and physical) ways to meet individual and family needs.

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