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: Physical Fitness
As your heart beats, the amount of time between these beats varies. In other words, your heart rate is constantly changing—speeding up and slowing down. Though it might seem counterintuitive, more of this “heart rate variability” (HRV) is better for both your physical health and how you cope with stress. And you can learn to listen and use it.
Some heart-rate monitors allow you to monitor your HRV and the effects of different training routines on it. Or you can check out biofeedback to help you master stress-management techniques such as paced breathing by giving you immediate feedback about your heart rate. Either way, HRV is a tool that can help you find the optimal timing for recovery or lighter training within your long-term workout regimen. In fact, HRV can even show when you’re at greatest risk for injury.
Pushing yourself is an important part of performance optimization, but you also need to regulate your emotional and physical stress. Biofeedback can help with your emotions, and heart-rate monitors that measure HRV can help optimize your physical training over months and years. Visit “Vary Your Heart Rate to Perform Your Best” to learn more about how you can use HRV.
The Achilles tendon (on the back of your ankle) is a common site for injury, especially for runners. And many people think running hills increases the likelihood of injuring their Achilles. Hill running provides many health benefits (cardiovascular endurance, strength, performance, etc.), but do the benefits outweigh the risk to your ankles? For the most part, the answer is, yes! The effects on your Achilles tendon while running on a flat surface, uphill, and downhill are all similar, meaning the risk of injury is no greater when running uphill or downhill than on the flat. Achilles injuries usually happen because of a combination of internal (ankle misalignment, muscle weakness, decreased flexibility) and external factors (footwear, over training, humidity, altitude). With movement, however, the Achilles tendon becomes more flexible, so a proper warm-up before exercise will help prevent injury.
What this suggests is that running hills isn’t necessarily a cause of injury to the Achilles tendon. More likely causes include progressing too quickly as a new athlete or not properly recovering from an injury. If you’re recovering from a previous injury to your Achilles tendon, talk to your doctor or therapist about when it’s safe to run again and how much hill running you are able to do. Be gradual in your return to running, especially hills. Don’t try to sprint up or down anything too steep too soon. But as long as you’re healthy, at your next hill encounter, be confident and take it on; your body is more likely to benefit than not.
As you read this article right now, your eyes are working harder than they would if you were reading a book or even watching TV. Attention, desk warriors! If you stare at a computer for most of the day, you could leave work experiencing dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. 90% of people who work on a computer experience symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome, or CVS. Symptoms include blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, eye strain, irritation, redness, and any number of other ocular symptoms.
Computers have become a necessity in our world, so monitors are here to stay. Here are some of the causes of CVS and some tips to help you protect your eyes from the screen:
- Blinking. One of the main symptoms of CVS is eye dryness. This occurs for two reasons: First, your eyes are focusing on the same depth of field for an extended period of time; second, unlike the non-stop action on a TV screen, there may be little movement happening on your computer screen. The lack of movement and constant field depth leads to less blinking and, therefore, eye dryness.
Fix it by spending 30 seconds every hour or so adjusting your eyes to something far away. If you work in a small office, put up a picture and focus on something small in the background. This change in depth of field will exercise your eyes, and you’ll blink more!
- Monitors. The pixels on a computer screen can cause some problems. Because they are not all the same brightness, they don’t produce the same contrast. And they can cause words or pictures on the screen to look fuzzy, straining your eyes and contributing to CVS.
Fix it by investing in a good LCD monitor if you have not done so already. LCD monitors reduce glare and contrast, as compared with older types of monitors. If you already have an LCD monitor, then talk to an ophthalmologist about getting some reading glasses to help reduce eye strain. Adjusting the lighting in the room and/or on your computer screen can also help soften the symptoms of CVS.
- Existing vision problems. You may already have a vision problem that went undiagnosed until you started staring at a computer. Extended computer use can exaggerate already existing eye conditions and lead to some of the symptoms of CVS.
Fix it by talking to a physician about corrective lenses. The Vision Center of Excellence has excellent resources from the VA and DoD for vision support.
In summary: Protect your eyes from CVS by taking frequent breaks from the computer, by blinking more often, and by making sure you work in an ergonomically efficient office setup. If you want to more information about CVS, check out “A Survival Guide to Computer Workstations.”
Two new performance optimization documents are now available on the U.S. Army Public Health Command website. The Performance Triad Guide contains useful tools and strategies for optimizing your sleep, activity, and nutrition.
The Sleep section includes ten effective sleep habits, strategies for addressing sleep countermeasures (caffeine and supplements, for example), and considerations for a sleep management plan, including relaxation techniques.
Activity has tips for meeting your exercise goals, how to achieve the functional fitness required to succeed on the PRT, as well as information on injury prevention that includes safe running strategies and shoe selection.
Nutrition provides detailed information on nutrition for performance, daily carbohydrate and protein calculators, hydration, nutrient timing for peak performance, and dietary supplements.
The Performance Triad Challenge, designed for squad and unit leaders, provides information organized into six areas: the professional soldier athlete, physical dominance, cognitive dominance, emotional dominance, sustained operations, and social, family, and spiritual information. The beginning of each module features a leader’s guide for identifying target areas for improvement.
Spring is just around the corner, so it’s time to start thinking about sports and outdoor recreation. In keeping with the Mission ReDefined campaign (a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Paralympics), VA encourages eligible veterans (those injured within the last six years) to apply for the 2015 National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic.
The purpose of the Clinic program is “early intervention for Veterans battling back from injury, not only strengthening their bodies but improving overall well-being and self-worth.”
Spend a week in San Diego learning about adaptive sport and recreational activities such as sailing, surfing, track and field events, kayaking, and cycling (hand and tandem). This is a national event open to Veterans from all across the country with combat injuries ranging from TBI and polytrauma to spinal cord injuries and loss of limbs.
The clinic will be held in San Diego, CA, from Sept 13–18. 2015. The deadline to sign up is May 1, 2015; visit the Registration tab at the Clinic link above for details and forms.
When you set lofty goals, it’s exciting to envision lofty results. This should (and can) inspire you to put in the hard work needed to accomplish these goals. But indulging in fantasies of how things could be down the road might make them feel so tangible that you don’t do what’s necessary to get there.
A more realistic approach is to picture not only where you want to go but also the obstacles that might prevent you from actually getting there. You’ll either decide that the goal is out of reach, or you’ll make plans to deal with the obstacles in order to get to where you want to go.
Here are some steps to help you overcome obstacles and reach your goals:
First, identify an important goal that you think you can actually achieve, but one that’s still a bit of a challenge. For instance, maybe you’re aiming to improve your APFT score by 20%.
Next, think what it will really mean to you when you accomplish your fitness goal. Maybe you picture yourself being more active with your family at home and then performing well during a mission to succeed and protect others.
Then consider where you are now and think about what stands between you and your goal. You can still keep your eyes on the prize. But you need to honestly recognize the obstacles. Maybe exercising in the dark makes you nervous, or you’re less organized than you could be, or you’re tired from not getting regular sleep, so it feels like an uphill battle.
Finally, strengthen your awareness and face the obstacles with an “if…then” plan. Here’s an example: “IF my fear of nighttime running creeps up, THEN I’ll put on my high-visibility clothing and stick to well-lit streets.” Here’s another: “IF I find myself disorganized and grasping for time, THEN I’ll walk around the block while planning my day.” Or how about: “IF I feel tired when I come home this evening, THEN I’ll take a short walk or jog and go to sleep right after.” If…then plans help you face your fears instead of hiding from them.
This four-step method can help you shift from just dreaming about important goals to tackling obstacles on the path to accomplishing them. And you may find this works even better if you combine it with other techniques such as setting SMART goals.
Parents are one of the most important factors in their children’s fitness. You can set the example. Children of active parents are more than twice as likely to be active than those with inactive parents. You also can help your children be active by driving them—or better yet, walking or biking with them—to and from activities, being active with them at home, cheering or supervising their play/activity, and getting the right equipment for their activities. It’s important to expose kids to different activities. Once they find something they like, they’ll stick with it. Above all, make it fun!
HPRC previously ran an Injury Prevention series with some general information to help keep you off profile. A new addition to the series is Injury Prevention Strategies, which will include information for the knees (specifically the anterior cruciate ligament or ACL), ankles, shoulders, and back. Check back often for the next in the series, and keep your body functioning at the top of its game!
Returning to duty after a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI; also referred to as acute concussion) requires a special recovery process. Until now, procedures used by military healthcare professionals were largely based on sports-related mTBI practices, which are not always appropriate for returning Warfighters to military activities and demands. Medical and military experts worked together to develop new recommendations for returning service members to military activity after mild traumatic brain injury. The six-step process includes progressing from rest through light to moderate activity and exercise and eventually to unrestricted activity. Patients cannot progress until they are symptom free at any given stage in the process. Almost 84% of military brain injuries in 2014 were from mTBI/concussions. Some of the most common causes of concussions occur in non-deployed setting. While not all mTBI/concussions are preventable, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk in your day-to-day life:
- Always wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a vehicle.
- Wear a helmet when suitable (for example, on a bicycle or motorcycle).
- Create safe living spaces to reduce falls. Remove or secure potentially hazardous items from floors and overhead.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Try these Mind Tactics Performance Strategies to improve your ability to control your attention.
You’re watching what you eat. You’re exercising regularly. You’re doing everything right. But for some reason, your weight-loss goal is just out of reach. It seems those “last 10 pounds” are often the hardest ones to shake! Fortunately, with continued effort and persistence, you likely can achieve your weight-loss goals.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian to make sure the goals you’ve set for yourself are realistic, healthy, and sustainable. After that, it’s time to get to work.
Go back to square one. That is, make sure you’re as careful about what you choose to eat now as when you first started on your weight-loss journey. Sometimes we lapse into old habits over time and start “allowing” unhealthy choices to creep back into our diet patterns. Keeping a food diary will help you keep track of what you’re really eating. And don’t forget to watch your portion sizes.
Be a weekend warrior. Many people find it harder to make healthy choices on the weekend—tailgate parties, family celebrations, and road trips all offer opportunities to “slip.” But eating healthy is a full-time job, so it’s important to plan ahead: Take a low-fat dish that you’ve prepared and choose restaurants where you know you’ll have healthy options available.
Stand up for yourself. Literally. Standing, rather than sitting, can burn as many as 200 to 300 calories per day and can help prevent many types of disease. Find as many opportunities in your day to stand, walk, and move as much as you can. Check out HPRC’s blog about “sitting disease” for more information about the risks of sitting too much.
Shake things up. Varying the type and intensity of your exercise is a great way to challenge yourself and prevent boredom—and can make a big difference toward achieving your goals.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important not only in the short term (for your performance as well as your career) but also in the long term, reducing your risk of many diseases including diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.