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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.

PFT/PRT training series—Part 1: Cardiovascular fitness

Learn how to boost your cardiovascular fitness before your next PFT/PRT.

The PFT/PRT is designed to test your cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength. In this three-part series, HPRC takes a closer look at each component, offers tips on training optimization, and suggests how to prevent common training-related injuries.

Preparation for your Physical Fitness (PFT) and Physical Readiness Tests (PRT) takes time and discipline. Training for the test isn’t something you should start the month before the test, and the fitness habits you develop leading up to the test should continue year-round. Weekend warriors and procrastinators are at greater risk of injury, and it’s likely that your performance will be less than optimal when it comes time for your test.

HPRC provides a series of articles with guidelines to help you prepare for the PFT/PRT, beginning with this one on cardiovascular fitness. Read more...

Mindfully remembering fallen service members

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
This Memorial Day, take a mindful moment to remember those who have served honorably and made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.

Memorial Day marks a national day of remembrance to honor those who lost their lives while protecting our country and values. Our fallen service members deserve our utmost respect, so take some time to mindfully acknowledge and respect their sacrifices.

Mindfulness is the practice of cultivating your attention and focus in a way that allows you to deeply appreciate the present moment. The practice of mindful remembrance also can help you more fully acknowledge the sacrifices of others. Whatever your plans this Memorial Day, try to engage in the 3 R’s:

Reflect: Stop, take a deep breath, and reflect on what you value most in your life. Appreciate what’s around you: your home, treasured friends and family, health, and career. Then internally shift attention: Tune into your heart beating and chest rising and falling with each breath.

Recognize: There are many people who enable the life you lead. They contribute in both small and big ways too. So pause and thank those who make things possible. Mindful appreciation can amplify your ability to feel gratitude toward people and events that you often might take for granted.

Remember: Think of someone you know who has lost his or her life in service to our country. Say the service member’s name out loud. Repeat it to yourself. Take a few quiet moments to recall a special memory, photograph, or simply what this person meant to you. Or commit to reading or sharing a story about a Warfighter whose actions you revere.

Remembering the fallen is a sacred and enduring responsibility that should be front and center at all Memorial Day festivities, and this practice can start with you. To learn about an organization that has created the goal of mindfully recognizing every fallen service member since September 11, 2001, visit the Mindful Memorial Day page. 

Watch HPRC’s video below for more on how to cultivate a mindful remembrance practice.

Posted 22 May 2017

Summertime food safety

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Food, Safety, Summer
Don’t let germs spoil your summer get-togethers. Try these tips to help keep your outdoor meals safe.

Picnics and barbecues are just around the corner, so be mindful of food safety as you soak up the summer sun and fun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates one in 6 Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses, including those associated with poorly cooked or stored foods in hot environments. Still, there are ways to keep your favorite foods safe—and your friends and loved ones healthy—this summer.

  • Keep it clean. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling uncooked eggs or raw meat, poultry, and seafood (and their juices). To prevent cross-contamination, wash utensils and cutting boards with hot, soapy water after food prep too. Tip: Fill a spray bottle with 1 Tbsp chlorine bleach and water, and use it to sanitize your countertops and other food-prep surfaces.
  • Cool it. Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator, not on the countertop. Safely marinate your meats, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator until it’s time to cook. Don’t reuse marinade, and don’t serve it with cooked foods.
  • Cook foods thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to check for doneness. Make sure cooked foods have reached a safe internal temperature:
    • Fresh beef, pork, veal, and lamb (steaks, roasts, and chops)—145°F
    • Fresh fish—145°F
    • Ground beef, pork, veal, and lamb (burgers and sausages)—160°F
    • All poultry and pre-cooked meats (such as hot dogs)—165°F
  • Refrigerate your leftovers. Chill your foods to stop the growth of bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses. Refrigerate items within 2 hours of cooking or 1 hour if the outside temperature is at or above 90°F. Tip: If you’re outside, keep things chilled at 40°F or less in a cooler, or place them directly on ice.

To boost your “BBQ IQ,” visit the CDC webpage.

Posted 22 May 2017

Lullabies help soothe baby and “new parent” stress

There’s great joy in becoming a new parent. To ease the stress during this transition and forge a bond with your little one, try singing to your baby.

While having a baby can bring immense joy, it also can spark anxieties for new parents and cause tension between them. So try singing lullabies to help relieve stress and soothe your cranky infant.

An infant’s neediness sometimes can make new parents question their competence. It’s normal to worry about your baby’s health and your new parenting role. Singing lullabies and other playful songs can help you feel connected to your baby as you share a soothing and enjoyable interaction. Moms, in particular, report that singing to their infants helps them experience and convey positive emotions such as happiness, pleasure, and satisfaction.

Singing is a way to focus attention on your baby and see your little one’s reactions to your voice, gestures, and facial expressions. This type of exchange can help you feel more confident as a parent and closer to your baby. His or her reactions can then inspire feelings such as pride and amazement, which dampens your stress and anxieties.

Singing lullabies can help new parents feel satisfied and calm too. There’s often a physical component to singing as well, where you sway together, or your infant snuggles in your lap. Some parents also report that singing changes their babies’ behavior. Babies can feel calmer, and both parent and baby can experience relaxation and harmony together. Mothers who sing to their babies say it soothes them, which leads to less crying.

If you’re currently pregnant, start singing to your baby now and continue after her or his birth. It’s possible singing taps into a natural tendency you have, but even if it doesn’t, singing lullabies and other playful songs is something you can get acquainted with doing. Use this strategy to lessen “new parent” stress and help you bond with your baby.

 

Posted 22 May 2017

Can a sympathetic nerve block relieve pain?

HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Pain, Pain management
Learn how sympathetic nerve blocks can help provide relief from chronic pain.

A sympathetic nerve block is a medical therapy, where an anesthetic solution (and sometimes a steroid) is injected into nerve bundles to help relieve your chronic pain. These nerve blocks target your sympathetic nervous system—a network of nerves that branch out from your spine to your body—affecting your digestion, breathing, and more.

Sympathetic nerve blocks offer temporary relief from pain, making it easier for patients to engage in physical therapy, which can stimulate mobility and decrease pain. The block numbs the pain generated by your nerves, leading to improved quality of life.

The procedure typically includes receiving intravenous (IV) medication to make you feel relaxed and sleepy before the nerve block is inserted. X-rays or other technology such as fluoroscopy are sometimes used to make sure the nerve block accurately targets the bundle of nerves. Your doctor will numb the area in your neck or back with a local anesthetic and inject the anesthetic solution (and sometimes other medicines) into the bundle.

Treatments are relatively quick (about 30 minutes), and patients usually can go home afterwards. Common side effects include soreness at the injection site and some weakness. Keep in mind some patients might need several treatments because everyone responds differently.

Research on the effectiveness of sympathetic nerve blocks is somewhat mixed. They don’t work for everyone, and pain relief might lessen over time. Depending on the type and location of your pain, other nerve blocks such as epidural steroid injections might be more appropriate. Sympathetic nerve blocks also might be most effective as part of a comprehensive pain management plan. Make sure to ask your healthcare provider if a sympathetic nerve block is right for you.

Posted 18 May 2017

Take responsible action for your mental health

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
During Mental Health Awareness Month, HPRC takes a look at common barriers to seeking support for mental health concerns. Learn what you can do to get the help you need.

Warfighters lead stressful lives, so it’s important to seek support and resources to help you cope and stay ready for duty. While many wouldn’t hesitate to see their doctor about a physical ailment, asking for help to address psychological struggles can feel overwhelming.

Nearly 44 million adults in the U.S.—about 1 in 5—experience a mental illness every year. In the military population, those statistics are even higher. More than 1.6 million service members have deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, and almost 19% have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. And only half of those who need mental health support actually seek treatment.

There are many barriers that people encounter when seeking mental health support from outside sources. Here are examples of what the most common barriers sound like and some recommended courses of action (COA) you can take to start moving past whatever’s standing in your way. Read more...

Watch out for “hidden” sugars

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Learn about “added” sugars that can be hiding in some of your favorite foods.

Nearly everyone enjoys sweet treats, but keep a lookout for hidden sources of sugar in some packaged or even “healthy” foods, especially if you’re watching your sugar intake.

Some sugars occur naturally in fruits (fructose) and milk products (lactose). However, other sugars are added to foods and drinks during preparation, processing, or at your table. These include natural sugars (such as honey) and processed sugars (such as high-fructose corn syrup). Foods with added sugars include ice cream, some yogurts, baked goods, breakfast cereals, punches, and some sodas and energy drinks. Consuming foods and drinks with added sugars can increase your risk of tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. So it’s important to limit your intake of foods and drinks with added sugars when possible.

Check food labels for hidden sources of sugar too. The Nutrition Facts panel was recently updated to include “added” sugars, and the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting them to no more than 10% of your calories per day. So try to limit your intake of foods and drinks with anhydrous dextrose, brown rice syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, malt syrup, maltose, maple or pancake syrup, molasses, honey, glucose, lactose, fruit nectars, brown sugar, sucrose, and sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol, and mannitol. Still, there are ways to help reduce your “added” sugar intake and boost nutrition as well.

  • Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruits that contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Try fresh or dried bananas, apples, or berries. Or choose fruits canned in 100% juice.
  • Limit sugar at your table. Add small amounts of sugar to your oatmeal, coffee, or tea. Or skip the syrup and top your whole-grain pancakes and waffles with fresh fruit.
  • Avoid sugary drinks. Instead, try fresh or sparkling water flavored with sliced oranges or strawberries.

Visit the MedlinePlus page to learn more about sugar.

Posted 15 May 2017

How TBI affects couples' relationships

A traumatic brain injury not only changes your loved one, it also changes your relationship as a couple.

When your partner suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI), changes to your relationship are likely. Both of you can experience a range of emotions as you adapt to new expectations in your relationship, but you can weather the changes. TBIs can occur without warning, and the path to recovery isn’t always clear, which can add strain to your romantic relationship. Read more...

Protect your back during your PCS

Don’t let PCS put you on profile. Make sure you’re moving properly to prevent injury during your move.

Service members and their families relocate a lot, and moving to a new home is hard enough without adding a back injury to the mix. So be mindful of how you’re lifting and moving while you’re packing up and loading up. Try these tips to help reduce your risk of injury and properly move heavier things such as boxes and furniture.

  • Warm up, just like you would before any workout.
  • Remember to keep your core tight, and use your leg muscles (rather than your back) to lift heavy objects.
  • Keep objects as close to your body as possible.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes to protect your feet from falling items.
  • Take breaks when necessary. Stretching and reassessing your mechanics can help you maintain proper posture when lifting.

The best way to prevent back injury is to strengthen your back and core muscles. You can prep for your PCS by doing exercises—such as planks, lunges, and vertical core training—that focus on these areas.

If you’re sore from all the lifting or think you might have pulled something, you can treat the pain with ice and rest—and perhaps an over-the-counter pain reliever—for the first 48 hours. Follow the MedlinePlus guidelines on how to further treat your back pain if it’s acute. However, if the pain persists, consult your doctor to rule out a more serious back problem or injury before you do any more heavy lifting. Certain yoga stretches also might relieve your pain, build your muscles, and return your back to normal function.

Read the U.S. Army Public Health Command’s “How to Safely Perform Pushing and Pulling Tasks” for more tips. And visit HPRC’s Injury Prevention section to learn more about how to protect your back. Good luck with your PCS!

Posted 11 May 2017

Lavender and stress reduction

Filed under: Anxiety, Lavender, Stress
Your sense of smell causes a variety of emotional responses. Can certain smells help you feel better?

Your sense of smell is a powerful tool when it comes to how you interact with your environment. Certain smells can alert you to danger or caution, while others can invoke feelings of relaxation or alertness. Lavender, in particular, might help reduce stress and anxiety.

The general properties of lavender oil are antibacterial, antifungal, sedative, and antidepressant among other things. While its pleasant smell might not physiologically change your stress response (that is, affect things such as cortisol, a stress hormone), it might just make you feel better. People have reported feeling less depressed and more relaxed when they inhale the scent of lavender. While this can be helpful for general anxiety, it might not be as helpful if your anxiety levels get too high.

Some also have reported that smelling lavender before bedtime helped them fall asleep more easily, wake less during the night, and feel less daytime fatigue. Next time you’re feeling stressed, try taking some deep breaths—and maybe have some lavender nearby to help. It comes in different forms such as essential oils, incense, Epsom salts, and whole herb. Find which one works best for you.

For more information about lavender, read the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health's web page. Visit HPRC’s Stress Management Strategies section to learn more about coping with stress too.

Posted 09 May 2017

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