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
Think about this: Not getting enough sleep has a serious impact on how and what you think—your memory and concentration suffer, as do your awareness of your surroundings and your reaction time. Sleep loss affects your ability to make good decisions and puts you on edge, making you susceptible to your emotions. There’s more: Sleep loss also affects your ability to think positively and solve problems effectively. All of these are key factors in managing stress. Making good decisions now reduces your stress over the long term, and this can be compromised when you’re not at your peak. Bottom line: Focus on getting enough sleep to help you manage your stress.
For more on how to get better sleep, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics information on sleep management. For how sleep loss affects all the areas of fitness, check out the HPRC’s Total Force Fitness article on The impact of sleep loss on total fitness.
The cool-down—a practice so engrained in our exercise habits that we assume it’s important. But, the truth is, the topic is understudied, and evidence for or against cooling down is still up for debate. What is a cool-down and what is it supposed to do? The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a period of low- to moderate-intensity aerobic or muscular endurance activities after exercise to gradually reduce heart rate and blood pressure and remove metabolic byproducts from the system. For some, this may be a slow jog down the street, or an easy ride around the block after a workout with the hope of also preventing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). The long-standing theory behind cooling down was that it helped to remove lactic acid from the system, a substance that could later cause muscle aches and soreness. However, it is believed that DOMS is the result of minor muscle damage due to novel or intense exercise, but we do know that lactic acid is not the culprit. During cool-down—active recovery—more lactic acid is removed from the system than during passive recovery, i.e., no cool-down. But is this a good thing? In a study of cyclists, researchers found that when subjects stopped exercise abruptly, lactic acid turned into glycogen, a fuel for the muscles. But when the cyclists gradually tapered off activity, less glycogen was made, leaving less energy for the muscles. These results indicate that cooling down might not be beneficial and may waste useful energy for the muscles.
On the other hand, a cool-down lowers elevated heart rates faster than passive recovery does and may prevent post-exercise dizziness. Stopping abruptly after exercise can cause blood to pool in the dilated vessels of the legs and feet, which may lead to a feeling of light-headedness and/or dizziness. Keep in mind, however, that these symptoms can also be related to other post-exercise conditions such as low blood sugar, low blood pressure, dehydration, or even hyponatremia. If you experience these symptoms, check with your doctor to find out if there are other causes.
Scientists agree that cooling down is also beneficial for people with cardiovascular conditions and heart disease where the coronary vessels are narrowed due to atherosclerosis (fatty deposits), as blood return to the heart may be compromised without it.
ACSM currently recommends at least 5-10 minutes of cool-down, with at least 10 minutes of stretching after exercise. However, more research is needed to determine the value and ideal recommendations for cooling down. If stopping exercise abruptly causes symptoms of light-headedness and dizziness, then a cool-down is a good idea.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has found violations in manufacturing practices in half of almost 450 dietary supplement companies it has inspected over the last four years, according to a Chicago Tribune article. The implications of these findings can have serious health problems for consumers. Since dietary supplement manufacturers are the ones responsible for ensuring a product is safe before it is marketed, the FDA inspects companies to check for compliance and takes action only if a product is deemed unsafe after it has been marketed. For more information, see the FDA website’s Dietary Supplements section.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) will launch this summer, with answers to many of the questions you may have about Dietary Supplements. Watch for HPRC’s announcement coming soon.
Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) is a resilience-building program developed by the Army and based on 30 years of research in positive psychology and resilience building, also available for Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard warriors. CSF is designed to give Warfighters and their families the knowledge, skills, and behaviors to help them thrive and successfully adapt to life’s challenges in this era of high operational tempo and persistent conflict.
Family resilience training modules help couples prepare for deployment and the post-deployment transition at home. These are available online for anyone to access. Although geared towards deployment and reintegration, the skills and strategies taught in the modules are relevant for families and relationships of those not currently deployed, as well.
For more information on CSF, visit HPRC's Total Force Fitness section.
The Navy Operational Fitness and Fueling Series (NOFFS) is an important training program for sailors and Navy health professionals, combining sports science and injury prevention information to promote optimal human performance. The exercises in the series have been designed to train sailors for the types of activities they can expect to perform during operational duties. The NOFFS program is currently available as an app for iPhone, with on-the-go reference and training assistance right at your fingertips. The app features pictures, videos, and step-by-step exercise instruction, as well as nutrition tips and information. Download the app for free from the iTunes App Store!
A recent American Psychological Association press release focused on the overall effectiveness of brain training programs as explored in a review of research that appeared in the Journal of Developmental Psychology. It turns out that not only are these exercises ineffective for treating cognitive disorders such as ADHD, but their effectiveness on improving brain function and intelligence in healthy adults and children is minimal. In fact, the effects weren’t comprehensive and didn’t last long.
If you’re looking to increase cognitive performance, mindfulness training such as meditation may be a good bet. Although mindfulness meditation is a relatively young field of study, so far studies indicate that regular practice has a positive effect on memory, attention, and mood regulation.
A new dietary supplement ingredient, dendrobium, is appearing rapidly in dietary supplement products promoted to boost athletic performance. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, manufacturers claim that dendrobium is a natural source of the stimulant phenylethylamine, but some researchers say that phenylethylamine doesn’t occur naturally in dendrobium. Phenylethylamine is a stimulant, with effects similar to those of amphetamines. At this time, the safety of dendrobium is unknown, so users should be aware that products containing this ingredient might be unsafe, particularly when used in combination with exercise.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is about to launch this summer and will answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Watch for HPRC’s announcement coming soon.
Do you know about the CREDO program run by the Navy? This chaplain-run program is all about building individual and family resilience. CREDO offers a variety of one-day and weekend retreat-like events aimed at enriching the lives of participants and their relationships. CREDO provides Warfighters and their families an opportunity to build self-esteem and self-understanding, learn respect for themselves and others, accept responsibility for their lives, and develop a healthy spirituality.
If you are interested in finding out more about CREDO, check out HPRC’s Military Family Tools: Assessments & Online Workshops page, and visit HPRC's Military Family Skills for more information on military-specific strategies for families.
The rate of amputee soldiers returning to active duty is at an all-time high. In the 1980s only about 2.3% of amputees returned to duty; the rate among Iraq/Afghanistan veterans is 16.5%. A lot of factors have contributed to this increase, but the most influential is unquestionably the advancement in technology. We now have centralized centers for amputee care that provide state-of-the-art custom rehabilitation, the most up-to-date prosthetic devices, and peer therapy. These centers enable wounded active duty members to rehabilitate together—interaction that is crucial for recovery. Rehabilitation is now specifically tailored to meet each Warfighter’s needs, and is geared towards the goals he or she has set for the future.
In order to return to active duty, a wounded warrior needs to obtain a final disposition of “fit for duty” from the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB). To do this, he or she must demonstrate a level of function with a prosthesis that exceeds basic movement skills, such as engaging in a high-impact activity typical for an active adult or athlete - i.e., box jumps or sprints. Despite the vast advances in prostheses, rehabilitation therapists mention that it’s the warrior’s drive and motivation that returns him or her to work.
Yoga’s popularity is growing in the United States, but many Americans are still not familiar with the details of this ancient practice. Yoga roots are holistic in nature—body and mind are of equal importance, and the asanas, or poses, which define yoga for many of us, are only one aspect of practice. Together with meditation and breath control, yoga promotes strength, flexibility, and awareness of body and mind. Yoga can help achieve wellness through meditation, deep relaxation, stretching, and breathing. Several organizations are now beginning to provide yoga classes tailored to veterans and active-duty service members who suffer from combat stress. VA facilities, Warrior Transition Units, and civilian studios are using it to complement traditional treatment of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Individuals who struggle with PTSD describe it as a feeling of disconnectedness from themselves and others. Yoga, which means “bringing together parts as a whole,” helps people feel connected again. One traditional type of yoga that has been shown to decrease anxiety in the military population is sensory-enhanced hatha yoga, which involves breathing, meditation, and certain poses. A specific benefit reported by participants in sensory-enhanced yoga was a decrease in insomnia. Combat-stressed adults also experienced reduced hyperarousal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and rage. Integrative Restoration (iRest) is a yoga-based meditative practice that teaches a person to focus on breathing when a negative memory arises. Soldiers and marines have expressed satisfaction in these breathing techniques because of the method’s simplicity and ease. It allows a person to regain control over his/her thoughts whenever symptoms of PTSD present themselves. A study found that iRest decreases rage, anxiety, and emotional reactivity all of which encourage negative thoughts and memories. Those practicing iRest also reported increased feelings of relaxation, peace, self-awareness, and self-efficacy. Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) was one of the first military facilities to research the outcomes of yoga for veterans and active-duty warriors suffering from PTSD. WRAMC immediately added iRest to its weekly treatment programs for soldiers suffering from PTSD and TBI after observing its effects: increased calm and peaceful feelings, less severe reactions to situations, and increased outlook on life.
There are many more yoga practices than the ones mentioned here, and each yoga method is different, so you can find the right one for you!