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
A number of relaxation beverages have been introduced into the market and are now available to consumers of any age from convenience stores, college campuses, and online vendors. There are recent reports of negative side effects in children and teens from the consumption of these drinks. There are two significant issues with relaxation drinks: First, some of their ingredients, particularly melatonin, have not gone through the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) process required for all food ingredients to be designated as safe or “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Second, other ingredients such as valerian and caffeine do not have established serving sizes or doses for this type of use. An additional concern is that it is unknown how ingredients might interact. Parents should be concerned about this.
It also may be hard to tell the difference between these drinks and those that have been recognized as safe because their bottles and labels are sometimes similar. A typical consumer may not realize which drinks contain ingredients that might have negative effects. Therefore it’s important to be aware what is in these drinks and to read all labels carefully. Many of these drinks have warnings on their labels that they are not intended for children. For more information about relaxation drinks, their ingredients, and their effects, check out HPRC’s article. Also, visit OPSS (Operation Supplement Safety) for more information about dietary supplement safety and specific ingredients.
Remember, there’s no magic beverage for relaxing or reducing stress. Instead, address those issues in order to get to the bottom of the stress you or your teen might be experiencing. There are strategies that you or your child can use to relax and de-stress in a healthy way. For even more ideas, visit the stress control section of HPRC’s website.
When you’re in pain, any relief is welcome. The good news is that researchers have found pain can be managed and alleviated, to a degree, by employing strategies that have you put your focus elsewhere. Meditation is one such strategy. A recent small study examined the experience of pain from fourteen experienced meditators and fourteen inexperienced participants. It turns out that the old adage is true: Practice makes perfect. The experienced meditators experienced pain to a lesser degree and got used to the pain more quickly. They also registered less anxiety than the unpracticed participants. The message? Practicing meditation regularly may improve how your brain handles pain.
And tune in again later for HPRC’s new section in Total Force Fitness on pain management—coming soon.
With the holidays upon us, the number of problems that you have to solve might be kicking up a notch or two. A Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs initiative, Moving Forward, has a website that gives you tools for “overcoming life’s challenges.” As you encounter challenges this holiday season, give their module a test run—it takes you through a step-by-step process for solving problems. They suggest:
- Define the problem and set goals
- Come up with alternative solutions.
- Pick one solution
- Put your solution into action and analyze the outcome.
HPRC’s website also has useful information on stress management.
As winter approaches here in the northern hemisphere, staying active requires more planning to be safe and comfortable. Here are some tips for exercising in cold weather conditions:
- Since medical conditions such as Raynaud’s, cardiovascular disease, and asthma can be exacerbated by climate changes, be sure to check with your doctor before exercising in the cold.
- Check out these tips from the Mayo Clinic, which include dressing in layers that include a synthetic material such as polyester or polypropylene close to the skin (avoid cotton, since it soaks up the sweat!) and paying close attention to your extremities, especially your fingers and toes, since the circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather.
- The American College of Sports Medicine also has a Position Stand on preventing cold-weather injuries during exercise that emphasizes being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite, as well as monitoring wind-chill temperature. The signs and symptoms of hypothermia can vary, but in general watch for feeling cold, shivering, apathy, and social withdrawal. Also watch for the early stages of frostbite (which precede the deep frostbite that can cause major tissue damage) in which you’ll feel burning, numbness, tingling, itching, or cold sensations.
If you pay attention to these guidelines, you can continue to stay fit all winter long.
Love may be the most important part of choosing a partner—but do you also think about friendship? Couples who both love AND cultivate a friendship with each other have happier and more stable relationships over the long run—and people in happier relationships tend to be healthier. That makes friendship with your significant other one more factor in a Warfighter’s total fitness package.
If you’re wondering how to cultivate a friendship with your partner, try starting up a conversation around topics like these that will bring you closer:
- What is it about yourself that you’re most proud of?
- What would you like to see happen for us in the next five years?
- Who are your best friends at this point in your life?
- What attracted you to me when we first met?
In other words, you can build a friendship together by talking about your experiences, wants, and dreams. For more tips on building or maintaining a strong relationship, check out HPRC's Answer on how to optimize your relationships.
“Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” - Lou Holtz, NFL and NCAA coach
Identifying the differences between these three things—ability, motivation, and attitude—is very important to performance optimization. Assessing your ability to perform a task is where optimization starts. Whether or not you feel like doing something when the situation calls for you to perform, motivation will power you to complete the task. Finally, having a positive attitude about your performance and how things turn out can make the difference between simply getting the job done and performing optimally.
It’s how you react to stressful situations—not the causes of stress themselves—that can affect your future health. Research has shown that people who react more strongly and remain “stressed out” longer are more likely to develop chronic diseases such as heart conditions and arthritis.
Even if you can’t control the stressful situations you find yourself in, you can learn to control how you react to them. Simple mind-body strategies such as deep breathing and cognitive reframing can help. Try some of the relaxation strategies from the Navy & Marine Public Health Center website the next time you find yourself reacting to a stressful situation and see if they make a difference.
In October 2012, students at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences participated in Operation Bushmaster at Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. The exercise involved a simulated combat environment to test the limits of their physical fitness as well as mental resilience. Military medical students were tasked with managing patient flow in an operational environment, such as tactical relocation over uneven terrain and dealing with changes in environmental conditions.
From a human performance optimization (HPO) standpoint, take-home points for the practical exercise included the importance of being physically fit, especially following guidelines for the prevention of back injuries, and implementing mental strategies for coping in high stress situations.
Understanding how stress affects you both mentally and physically in high-stress situations is important for optimal performance—which is why training under stress is a central part of combat preparation. Knowing what your reactions are, when to pause and take a deep breath, how to use positive self-talk, when to recalibrate one’s physical responses, and how to recharge (sleep and proper nutrition) after a stressful event are key for being at your peak mental performance. Getting support from comrades and using appropriate humor also can help relieve stress.
The holidays can be hard for families when a loved one is deployed. This blog entry from the Defense Centers of Excellence, “Preparing Your Family for the Holidays Apart,” has some tips for the holidays for the family at home, including:
- Continue gift exchanges even if family members are apart, as traditions are important.
- Socialize with your friends and family as usual; don’t isolate yourself.
Family members can even get creative with holiday traditions, such as making holiday ornaments with names of loved ones and/or writing letters to be opened during the holiday season.