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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

Listen up!

Filed under: Hearing, Hearing loss
Hearing loss is a silent epidemic in the military, but it isn’t inevitable. When not around firearm explosions or helicopter noise, follow safe listening practices to help prevent hearing loss.

Veterans who served in the U.S. and abroad between September 2001 and March 2010 were four times more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing loss. In fact, two of the most common disabilities affecting service members today are hearing loss and tinnitus, says the Hearing Center of Excellence (HCoE). Hearing loss and tinnitus seriously impact force readiness as well as the emotional and social well-being of those affected.

However, not all hearing loss results from the noise pollution Warfighters experience in the field. Many everyday exposures, such as your MP3 player or loud music in your car, can be just as damaging as firearms or helicopters. To maintain good hearing and operational readiness, Warfighters must use safe listening practices at all times. HCoE recommends these safe listening practices:

  • Never listen to your MP3 player at maximum volume.
  • Following the “60:60” rule: 60 percent maximum volume on your MP3 player for no more than 60 minutes a day.
  • Take periodic breaks of 15–20 minutes when listening to loud music to allow your ears to recover.
  • Select headphones or earbuds designed to remove background noise.
  • Exercise caution when listening to music in the car. Listening in a confined space increases the risk of hearing damage.
  • Wear hearing-protection devices such as earplugs at concerts, sporting events, parades, and other high-noise situations.

For more information on how to protect your hearing, as well as treatment and rehabilitation for hearing loss, please read this article from HPRC and visit HCoE.

Treat your feet right!

Filed under: Feet, Footwear
Hiking and marching and training in boots can be problematic if you don’t take care of your feet. It’s time to give some TLC to a neglected—but important—part of your body.

You may not think about your feet much, but you should. The condition of your feet can make or break a ruck march, hike, or any other physical activity, especially ones that involve wearing boots. There are easy steps you can take to keep your feet blister-free, fungus-free, and in optimal shape for the many demands you put on them. Take a few minutes to self-examine your feet for any obvious problems. Military OneSource offers great advice on foot hygiene and the correct use of socks and boots. Something as simple as tying your boots correctly can prevent foot problems down the road!

So, what’s in your snack drawer?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Food, Nutrition
Learn how to choose healthy snacks so the next snack attack doesn’t ambush you and your healthy eating plans.

Do you have a “snack drawer”? Most people do, whether it’s in their office desk, gym locker, backpack, or family minivan. Snacking can be an important part of a healthy lifestyle, preventing late-afternoon vending machine runs or mealtime overeating and providing crucial nutrients prior to workouts or missions. Snacking can also ambush otherwise healthy eating plans, so it’s important to choose snacks wisely.

Ideally, your snack drawer should be stocked with a variety of protein and carbohydrate snacks to meet your needs during the day. A healthy snack provides 100 to 300 calories, depending on your weight and activity level.

Opt for lean-protein choices such as water-packed tuna (the kind in packets fit easily into a backpack, briefcase, or purse), peanut butter, and dry-roasted nuts such as walnuts, almonds, or pistachios. If you have a fridge available, boiled eggs (up to one week) or single-serving cups of hummus, cottage cheese, or Greek-style yogurt are great choices.

Healthy-carbohydrate options include instant oatmeal or grits, whole-grain crackers, and dried fruit. Choices for the fridge include fresh fruit and veggies—a great way to get the recommended amounts you need each day.

Take advantage of snack time to add some hydration to your day. Water (flavored ones can make drinking water more appealing), milk, soymilk, and almond milk are great choices. Herbal teas provide a caffeine-free alternative. Of course, juicy fruits such as watermelon, oranges, and kiwis are terrific too.

Being prepared can help you make good choices the next time a snack attack hits. But don’t forget about food safety: Be sure to keep an eye on expiration dates and toss things when they’re past their prime. For more information about healthy snacking, read these informative tips from MedlinePlus.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from HPRC! Review some safety tips for a great holiday this year.

HPRC wishes you a very Happy Halloween! Halloween can be a fun family holiday, with costumes, trick-or-treating, parties, and food. But before you jump all in, review some safety tips to keep this holiday fun and safe! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights some tips: Don’t trick or treat alone or stop at dark houses and do wear reflective tape, examine all candy for evidence of tampering, avoid homemade treats, and use a flashlight. Visit the CDC website to read the full article.

Special Operations Forces—Do you have what it takes?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Learn what it takes to make it in Special Operations Forces.

Making it into a Special Operations Force (SOF) is challenging, to say the least; it requires intense physical and mental stamina. A keynote presentation at the 2013 Association for Applied Sport Psychology Conference highlighted what it takes to be an SOF “Tactical Athlete.” It focused on the ability to “embrace the ‘suck’” (grueling experiences) and remain alert during periods of extreme discomfort—hot, cold, wet, or dry—along with heavy gear, noise, and fatigue.

Unlike most athletes, there is no “season,” so SOFs are required to always be on. This means intense training is part of the SOF experience—a selection process where “survival of the fittest” is the rule. Some of the physical characteristics that can help a person withstand the training are endurance, strength, coordination, and flexibility. Those selected to be SOF personnel also tend to possess the following mental characteristics:

  • Above-average IQ: Most are brighter than most other people, and those of average intelligence optimize what they have.
  • Complex reasoning: They can grasp and reason through abstract concepts.
  • Tolerance of ambiguity: SOFs accept when they are not in control and do their best under those circumstances.
  • Situational awareness: They can usually remain aware of their surroundings while tuning into what is most relevant.
  • Good decision-making: They have good judgment, even in uncomfortable conditions.
  • Mental flexibility: SOFs are able to adapt rather than get stuck on certain beliefs.

And in terms of personality, SOFs generally are:

  • Emotionally stable: They do not usually experience extreme highs or lows.
  • Stress-tolerant: SOFs accept and cope with stress rather than try to escape it.
  • In control of their behavior: They act in accordance with their values, keeping their creed in mind.
  • Self-confident: They are not consumed with self-doubt or rigidly confined by other people’s rules but possess their own strong moral compass.
  • In control of aggression: SOFs are able to use their aggression in a targeted manner.
  • Self-reliant: While they can work well with a team, they are also highly independent.
  • Motivated: SOFs tend to have a very strong work ethic.

Finally, success with SOF training begins in part with an attitude. Anyone who yearns to be an SOF must above all cultivate an ability to turn attention outwards amidst “the suck.” Grueling conditions become a cue to remember that your comrades are also hurting and that each of you depends on the others to work hard. Taken together, SOFs embrace their membership in this elite group as an identity.

For more information on mental resilience —or what it takes to overcome adversity and grow stronger—check out HPRC’s Mental Resilience section.

Spice up your diet!

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Learn how adding a little spice to your diet can enhance performance and improve health.

Spices add flavor and color to many foods. But did you know they also might improve your performance while offering you protection from many diseases, including heart disease and cancer?

Your body’s cells continuously produce large quantities of what scientists call “free radicals”—highly reactive molecules that can damage cells. Ordinarily, your cells also produce antioxidants to neutralize these free radicals. But exercise, stress, and environmental pollutants can cause an imbalance between your body’s antioxidants and its free radicals. That’s where spices can come into play.

Not only do spices such as cinnamon, allspice, oregano, and turmeric (and others) demonstrate high antioxidant activity, scientists think they might actually help your body produce its own antioxidants. Some research suggests that eating spices as part of a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can prevent inflammation (a key player in the development of many diseases) and protect your body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals.

Get creative! Sprinkle a little cinnamon over your morning oatmeal, add a bit of allspice to a post-workout recovery shake, or stir some oregano or turmeric into your vegetable soup. A little bit goes a long way. Not only will you get a boost of flavor, you just might take a step toward better health and performance.

Performance Strategies for injury prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Check out our performance strategies for preventing common military injuries.

Injury prevention is critical in maintaining optimal performance and operational readiness. Ankle sprains, knee pain, and back pain are very common injuries in the military. Take the time now to protect yourself from injury, and you’ll be glad you did later. Read our performance  strategies to help fend off common military and athletic injuries, compiled from our recent injury prevention series of posts.

A big name for a common knee problem

One very common cause of knee pain has a fancy name, but avoiding it can be quite simple if you follow some important advice.

Chondromalacia is a knee problem that can have a number of different symptoms, including pain. It can your ability to exercise, but even more problematic is that it can interfere with your ability to meet the demands of your military duties.

Here’s the basic rundown on chondromalacia: In a healthy state, the kneecap has soft cartilage beneath that allows the bone to glide smoothly against the other bones of your knee joint. When the smooth surface wears away, the back of the kneecap becomes rough and rubs the other bone surfaces, causing pain. The key to avoiding this condition is maintaining that smooth surface.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, muscle weakness, imbalance, or tightness in the thigh muscles can contribute to chondromalacia. It’s important to maintain strength in your quadriceps and hamstring muscles; follow a strength-training program to develop and maintain strong muscles. Also, make sure that you have enough flexibility in your quads; if the muscles and tendons are too tight, they can force the kneecap to move or “track” incorrectly in the natural groove of your knee joint. If you do a lot of running, make sure your footwear isn’t old and worn, because the shock-absorption of shoes decreases as they age. When it comes to knee pain, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Strengthen and stretch your muscles, and you’ll be on your way to keeping your knees ready for action.

In the middle of a fight, change your focus

If fights with your loved ones last longer than the argument itself, then check out this strategy for refocusing your mind and calming your body.

When you find yourself in an argument with a loved one, it’s important to be able to move on afterwards without being burdened by negative feelings. But sometimes the negativity can hang on after the argument itself is over, and can make interacting with the other person difficult. It’s important to work out those negative feelings so that they don’t fester and wreak more havoc in your relationships.

Here’s how: When you find yourself in the middle of an argument, take a time-out before you become too worked up. It’s easier to shake off negativity at this stage. Stay levelheaded enough to stop the argument, walk away, focus on something else, and make yourself focus on positive thoughts about yourself, something else, or your loved one. While you are doing this, also engage in some stress-management techniques such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation; you can learn about them in the Mind-Body Skills section of HPRC’s website. By refocusing your thoughts and letting go of stress in your body, you’re more likely to feel calmer, slow your heart rate, and be less reactive to the other person. Once you’re calmer, you’ll probably find it easier to interact more positively with the other person and do or say things that can enhance your relationship.

For more ideas on strengthening your relationships, check out HPRC’s Relationship Enhancement section or this article on “Basic Training for Couples Communication.” And for more information on handling stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.

A snappy way to get into shape

Snap into shape! Learn about the benefits of using elastic bands during resistance training rather than free weights or weight-machine exercises.

Anything can disrupt your usual workout routinesummer travels, PCS, deployments, or injuries. If you need a way to stay in shape whatever the snafu, give resistance bands a try. Resistance band training involves targeting particular muscles by pulling and stretching elastic bands. Resistance bands come in different shapes, sizes, and even colors. Some look like oversized rubber bands; others look like cables or tubes. Depending on the length and type, these bands provide progressive resistance throughout various exercises. Unlike free weights, resistance bands also can be used to target key movements, such as a golf swing or a tennis serve. This focuses the exercise on targeted areas and can lead to stronger, more powerful muscles.

Resistance-band training has been studied for all types of people and for different types of activity levels, from NCAA Division I athletes to nursing-home patients. A study with people who were out of shape found that resistance exercises led to the same kinds of improvements in weight loss and strength as weight machines. In another study, athletes who trained with resistance bands were stronger and more powerful than those who used free weights alone. Resistance bands also can help improve muscle strength and range of movement after injury.

What’s more, resistance bands are relatively cheap, lightweight, and easily portable, so you can continue training even when you’re far from a gym. However, if you’re new to resistance bands, you need to learn to use them correctly to prevent injury and maximize your workout. If you’re interested in learning more about training with resistance bands, check out this pamphlet from the American College of Sports Medicine.

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