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 myriad of dietary supplements make their way to the market labeled as “healthy” for the public. However, many contain dangerous substances, including steroids, and consumers have no idea they are taking harmful substances. Supplement Safety Now, a public protection initiative, was founded by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to make sure over-the-counter supplements are safe for consumers. For more information, read more about this initiative.
Have you ever had one of those days that never seemed to go well, from the minute you heard the alarm clock go off? Maybe you didn’t have time for breakfast, forgot your laptop at home, lost your temper when someone cut you off on your way to work, replied to an e-mail in a way you really wished you hadn’t, ate poorly all day, couldn't concentrate at work, and then couldn't find the energy to go the gym?
Ask yourself how you slept the night before. One factor that can contribute to bad days is lack of sleep. Not getting enough sleep is all too common in the military and across the country—it’s often looked at as the price you pay to get ahead. Some sacrifice sleep for social activities at night—web surfing, e-mailing, watching TV, playing video games, or one more drink out with buddies—which further worsens the issue.
Bottom line: Not getting enough sleep is pervasive throughout all ranks and has major negative impact on your health, relationships, and career. The effects of sleep loss affect performance in much the same way that alcohol intoxication does. So coming to work deprived of sleep is rather like coming to work drunk. Your interactions with others and your job performance suffer—which has a huge impact on safety. Losing sleep isn’t sustainable for the long run.
But the damage doesn’t stop there. In fact, sleep loss has a ripple effect throughout virtually every aspect of health and wellness, including your physical, emotional, social, family, and spiritual well-being (see the five program components of Comprehensive Soldier Fitness here). It increases your risk of disease and harms your social relationships and possibly your professional reputation.
Sleep deprivation can be a byproduct of mission demands, of course. In the military, sleep loss is sometimes used on the battlefield as a weapon, wearing the enemy down through non-stop engagement. The problem is that this strategy affects our own Warfighters, too. Senior leaders are cautious in employing this tactic, and it’s used only for specific, organized, orchestrated periods of time, allowing for a full rest and recovery before massive errors occur that can cost lives.
Where many of us go wrong is thinking this type of sleep schedule is normal and maintaining it post-deployment. Most people aren’t able to tell when their state of mind—alertness, mood, concentration—has been compromised by lack of sleep until gross errors are made.
I believe sleep is the single most vital wellness function we do every single 24-hour period, and yet it requires no treadmills, no weights to be lifted, no personal trainers, and not even special clothes. It has dramatic implications for your entire body and sets you up for optimization everywhere else. Sleep is commonly overlooked at the doctor's office because physicians (including myself) don't understand exactly how it works, and in fact, there is no standardized medical test to see if you are getting enough sleep. But that’s no reason to ignore the health treasures afforded to those who get a great night's sleep on a regular basis.
On average, we spend 20-25 years of our lives sleeping, and five to seven of those are spent the critical dream periods known as "Rapid Eye Movement." REM periods occur at regular intervals throughout a night of good rest (when not impaired by alcohol, caffeine, or other drugs). Unfortunately, many of us look at this time as wasted, yet it can be some of the most glorious "unconscious" time to improve our health!
During REM periods, your brainwave patterns register signals much like those produced when you are awake and concentrating. During sleep you also secrete hormones that repair tissue and renew microscopic damages to cells and organs before they develop into bigger problems. In fact, you actually concentrate and focus for several hours throughout a good night's rest as you repair your body! Your brain, the center of all health, is exercising while you lie quietly in dreamland! When you destroy the quality of your REM sleep, the result is poor performance, inattention, obesity, hormonal imbalances, poor appetite, lack of normal growth, high blood pressure, poor interpersonal skills, no energy for the gym, possibly diabetes, and more.
Getting enough sleep means you are more likely to live longer, experience less disease, retain information better, perform better, and get more out of your workouts. You will be more patient with others, less demanding and prone to anger, and able to optimize all aspects of human performance, including your family relationships. For more about getting enough sleep, visit the HPRC’s Sleep Optimization page. Don't overlook the simplicity of a good night's rest.
Carrying extra weight in the form of fat has many downsides: It not only impairs your self-image, but it also hinders your athletic performance, leads to disease, and contributes to the aging process. What’s the best way to lose that extra flab? While intense resistance and endurance training—such as lifting weights and running—will achieve great results, experts say that the best form of fat loss is fat prevention. Here are a few tips to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and avoid fat accumulations:
- Find activities you enjoy, like swimming or running with a friend.
- Participate in community events that encourage exercise.
- Get outdoors with your children and pets.
Remember that it’s important to begin slowly and increase exercise gradually so that physical activity is an enjoyable experience. You can get more tips from this news release by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Distractions are a great way to help reduce stress, as they allow a child or teen to take his or her mind off of deployment—to a point. A great idea for parents is to provide plenty of opportunities for social activities (i.e., sports, clubs, etc.). Many of the sources of stress from a deployment have no ready solution, so distractions can be helpful. Providing events that families can partake in together (i.e., bowling, arts and crafts, etc.) are a great way to bring families together. Research shows that the most common forms of adolescent distractions are reading, drawing, playing computer games, listening to music, and playing with pets.
Salmon is commonly touted for its omega-3 fatty acids. HPRC recently received a question about what foods other than salmon are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. For a complete answer, including the recommended intakes from the American Heart Association, please see HPRC’s answer.
Many adverse events associated with dietary supplement use go unreported. HPRC has developed one page information resources on how to report adverse events. Warfighters and their families can follow the directions for reporting adverse events to MedWatch (FDA) and Natural Medicines Watch. In addition to these sites, Health care providers can follow step by step directions for reporting via AHLTA.
With the schedules of most Americans more hectic than ever, many individuals find it difficult to fit in a long run outside or make the trip to a gym. Here are some simple ways to change your lifestyle and get some exercise: If you live near a place you go to regularly, such as the grocery store or a friend’s home, try walking instead of driving. According to the American Hearth Association, for every hour you walk, you could add up to two hours to your life! If you have children who like to play, whether at the park or at home, play with them. It will keep your children healthy, too. Instead of sitting down to watch your favorite TV show, invest in a few pairs of dumbbells or resistance bands and work out while watching that show. If your house has stairs, there are all kinds of exercises you can do on them.
Every small thing you do adds up, so whether you try bicep curls with groceries or climbing on the monkey bars with your kids, you’re doing something to help keep your body healthy. For lots more about how to fit fitness into your life, check out Get Moving! from the American Heart Association.
Caring for elderly parents, even in the best of situations, can be difficult for anyone. But it can be even more of a challenge for military service members. Trying to make long-term care and emergency decisions for elderly parents while simultaneously carrying a great deal of responsibility at work can cause a lot of worry. Military service members are also often deployed overseas, far away from their aging parents, which makes it more difficult to monitor their parents’ well-being. As parents age, they may need assistance with daily activities such as home maintenance, personal hygiene, and meals. And if a medical emergency occurs without a contingency plan in place, it adds to the burden of guilt and anxiety over what could happen in the service member’s absence.
A service member’s worry increases as the age of his parents increases, according to a study of senior-ranking male officers aged 40-49, especially if the parents have had any prior illnesses. The uneasiness of a service member decreased if he had other siblings and a solid parent-care plan in place.
Here are some preemptive steps that a service member can take to make sure his or her parents are well cared for, even from a different continent:
- Research what community and government resources are available for information and support services in your parents’ neighborhood.
- Ask siblings, extended family members, neighbors, and friends to help with your parent-care responsibilities.
- Schedule regular phone calls or Skype chats for updates on your parents’ health.
- Develop a care plan together with your parents before a medical emergency occurs.
With so many people counting on you, it is important to be organized, mentally solid, and in control of every situation no matter what happens. Strategic planning and communication can make all the difference in caring for your elderly parents from afar and help you maintain performance while dealing with additional stress loads. For more information on caregiver support and eldercare, please visit the National Resource Directory and the Armed Forces Crossroads.
In order to reach your optimal performance level and minimize injury, you should incorporate aerobic, anaerobic, and strength training into your training program, and also give your body time to adapt as you work towards your fitness goals. Just last month, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) published its new guidelines for exercise professionals, the first update since 1998. (Warning: ACSM publications tend to be a bit technical, but they have great information for the motivated reader.) Among other things, it emphasizes the need for diversity.
Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart muscles and improves your heart’s ability to pump blood as needed when you are active. Some examples of aerobic exercise are walking, running, cycling, fitness classes, and any other type of activity that requires movement of your large, lower body muscles. This type of exercise can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, lower your resting heart rate, and improve your breathing, and your tolerance to more vigorous exercise.
With anaerobic training, you will see significant increases in your muscular strength and speed. Basically, anaerobic exercise involves exercising at such a rate that your bloodstream can’t get enough oxygen to your muscles to meet the demands. It can be achieved with any activity that produces brief spurts of high-intensity activity, including sprinting and sports such as football, basketball, and soccer. Weight lifting and interval training can also provide anaerobic exercise. This type of exercise helps your body become better at higher levels of exercise with less fatigue.
The third key component to a complete exercise program is strength training, such as using weights or resistance equipment. Not only can it enable you to increase your strength and muscle size, it can help you build stronger muscles that will enable you to lift heavier loads. However, you need to plan your strength exercises so that they maintain the mobility and stability of your muscles as well as build size and strength. Your muscles need to maintain or increase their range of motion to help prevent injury. The ACSM also has recommendations on how to ramp up your strength training.
The final link in the fitness chain is flexibility. Long debated by the exercise community, flexibility exercises have earned new respect by way of a “Position Stand” just released this year by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). It summarizes the value of flexibility exercises as improving range of motion and stable posture (the ability to keep your body in a stable, balanced position). The report covers the various methods of stretching that can be incorporated into a complete training program. The ACSM’s June 2011 press release includes an excellent summary of these new guidelines—which cover all aspects of exercise—as well as a link to the complete document.
If you incorporate all four of these types of exercise into your training program, you will have a healthy heart and lungs and more endurance (aerobic exercise), speed and power (anaerobic), and range of motion (flexibility training). And by diversifying your exercise regimen, you will feel fresher and be less likely to become bored. Best of all, you will be on your way to Human Performance Optimization!
Throughout the duration of a deployment, communication with children is extremely important. Parents sometimes are unsure how much information they should communicate to their children, with good reason: research shows that too much information can be overwhelming and stressful for children. Operation R.E.A.D.Y. provides an interactive booklet that helps you explain the deployment process to your children. It’s important for a non-deployed parent to provide updates with regards to the deployment process, but it’s also okay to leave out some details.