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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.

Running indoors versus outdoors—does it matter?

Have you ever wondered whether it’s better to run on a treadmill or outdoors? You’re not alone. Read on to learn the answer.

Training on a treadmill versus running outside – is there a difference, besides the scenery? Is one better than the other? These are frequently asked questions in the running world, especially when the weather makes outdoor running a challenge. Researchers provide a short answer: Training on the treadmill and “overground” running are not the same.

If you’ve experienced treadmill running and find yourself more tired afterwards than you would on an outdoor run, you’re not alone. Studies have found that athletes actually run slower on a treadmill than their normal pace outside, although they perceive treadmill running as being more exhausting. In other words, even though it feels more difficult, treadmill running is usually less intense and less physically challenging than running outdoors.

However, running indoors can be helpful if you’re recovering from an injury since running on a treadmill is easier on your joints than running outside on concrete or even grass.

Bottom line up front, you do run differently on a treadmill than you do outside, even if you don’t realize it. If you’re training for an outdoor race, ideally you should run most of your training miles outside. When you want to or need to run indoors on a treadmill, set the incline at 1–2% to increase your exertion level to more closely replicate your outdoor runs.

If you do decide to run outside during a cold spell, take a look at our article with tips for staying safe and the many resources where you can find more ways to keep warm and hydrated even in frigid weather. Remember: Whether you stay in or venture out, any exercise is better than none!

Don’t be holi-dazed & confused about food safety

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
The kitchen can be hectic during the holidays. Here are some helpful tips to keep your food, your family, and your holiday guests safe.

Do you know that one in six Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses each year? Thankfully, there are safety tips and techniques that can help you prevent such incidents. Here are some quick and easy tips to remember:

Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces thoroughly and frequently with hot, soapy water.

Separate: When shopping, preparing, and storing your meals, be sure to keep raw meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from other foods that won’t be cooked to prevent cross-contamination.

Cook: Use a food thermometer to ensure that your meats are cooked to the right temperature (165°F for turkey).

Chill: Don’t leave leftovers (including raw and cooked items, such as pies) out on the table for more than two hours. Promptly refrigerate these items, and use or discard leftovers within three to four days.

If food looks or smells questionable, a good rule of thumb to follow is, “When in doubt, throw it out.”

For more information on food safety, visit the Food and Drug Administration’s web page on Food Safety Tips for Healthy Holidays.

Balance your materialism this gift season

Filed under: Families, Holidays
In this season of buying, take a moment to learn about the science behind materialism and its link to your well-being.

With the holidays, sales, and gift-giving (and receiving) upon us, material items may be on your radar more than usual. Thinking about what to get for your significant other, parents, children, friends, and/or coworkers is on many people’s to-do lists. But where should we draw the line with materialism—that focus on the status symbols of money and possessions? And does having more really make us happier?

Ironically, some research has shown that materialism actually relates to feelings of lower well-being. Being more focused on material things can lead to greater feelings of insecurity and “neediness.” Interestingly, this doesn’t depend on personal or household income (though few studies included multimillionaires or the homeless). But it does suggest that materialism is an effect not of wealth but of one’s attitude towards material things.

This isn’t the same as the desire for money or financial success. Believing that money is important can actually improve your well-being. But your sense of well-being can suffer if you link your desire for money with status, image, success, and happiness.

So this holiday season, strike the balance that works for you and your family as to how much you should focus on material items versus other (spiritual, mental, and physical) ways to meet individual and family needs.

The other F.A.T. – Female Athlete Triad, that is

The Female Athlete Triad isn’t talked about often, but it still affects many girls and women. Learn about how this condition ultimately affects performance.

The Female Athlete Triad is a condition that commonly affects physically active girls and women, especially those involved in activities such as dance or gymnastics that have a heavy emphasis on weight and physical appearance. The Triad is characterized by energy deficiency, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss). Poor eating habits combined with high-intensity exercise can cause energy deficiency, although energy deficiency can occur even without disordered eating. Over time, estrogen decreases and causes menstrual cycles to become irregular or stop completely. However, estrogen is also important for building strong bones, so when estrogen levels drop, bones become weaker and osteoporosis can develop.

Female Warfighters can be at risk for developing the Triad if they don’t get enough calories and if training is too intense. In the short term, lack of energy will lead to fatigue and difficulty concentrating—an equation for poor performance. Continued energy deficiency, though, can lead to muscle loss and decreased strength, putting you at higher risk for injury. Then, even when you’re training hard, your performance may fail to improve or actually worsen.

You can prevent the Female Athlete Triad easily by focusing on your overall health and nutrition rather than your weight. Food is the fuel that helps you to perform at your best.

For more information, read this handout on the Female Athlete Triad and HPRC’s post on disordered eating.

Stay injury-free while running

It’s race season. And if you’re a Warfighter, every season is running season. Do you know what kind of running injuries you’re most at risk for and when you should or shouldn’t “run through the pain”?

It seems that just about everyone is a runner these days, and it’s an essential part of being a Warfighter. Since 1990, the number of road race finishers in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. Participation in the largest road races has increased 77% in 14 years! More runners means more who need to learn about running injuries. Check how injury savvy you are with the infographic below, courtesy of the Sports Performance and Rehabilitation Department of the Hospital for Special Surgery, educational partners for the New York City Marathon. 

Running From Injury [JPG]

Pace your breathing to perform under stress

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Tactics, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Breathing, Mind, Mood
Want to perform well under stress? Don’t just take a deep breath…take some long exhales. Learn more about paced breathing and get some resources to hone the skill.

In stressful situations, people often say, “Take a deep breath!” But perhaps they should be saying, “Take a long exhale!”

When your breathing is rhythmic, and your exhales are longer than your inhales, your heart rate will tend to follow: As you inhale, your heart rate increases, and as you exhale, your heart rate slows down. This more variable heart rate is associated with fewer physical and psychological problems over the long run, and lower stress and better situational awareness during the short-run. Better situational awareness means being aware of your changing environment, while also tuning into whatever is most important right here and right now. When you hold your breath or take short, shallow breaths, your heart rate varies less—which is a sign of stress. When you’re under stress, your attention can get stuck on a perceived threat. Instead, you need to allow your attention to shift from a broad focus (such as a landscape), to a narrow focus (such as the origin of a weapon firing), and back to a broad focus (such as the whole landscape, where there may be additional threats). Paced breathing can help you do this.

Optimal breathing rates vary slightly from person to person, but about six breaths per minute (with four-second inhales and six-second exhales) tends to be in the ballpark for most people to experience some benefits.

To learn to breathe at this rate, get some audiovisual guidance with the Breath2Relax app, or simply listen to the tutorial and guided breathing music provided by HPRC. 

Quality of sex matters

Ever wonder how much of a fulfilling intimate relationship sex accounts for? Learn about how much and the health benefits of sex.

Sex experts say that "good sex"—a key ingredient in most intimate relationships—adds only about 15–20% to an already good relationship. On the other hand, "bad sex" (such as one or both partners not being fulfilled) can take away 75% from relationship happiness. That is, when sex is going well, it helps to improve your relationship a little bit, but when it isn't, it can be destructive to your relationship and overall quality of life. Keep in mind there’s no common definition of “good” or “bad” sex. These definitions rely on each person’s perception of sex and a fulfilling sexual relationship, plus how well both partners’ perceptions match.

Not only can sex affect satisfaction in relationships, it can also improve your health! Warm affection, such as hugging and kissing, can improve happiness and well-being, as well as reduce stress. Sex is also associated with greater overall health and satisfaction. As we pointed out in a previous article, sex releases a hormone that helps you feel closer to the other person and makes you feel good.

Being sexually active, having a good-quality sex life, and a healthy interest in sex are related to improved health through middle age and beyond. In fact, research has found that regular sexual activity among older individuals is more normal than previously thought. However, it isn’t clear whether healthier people have more-active sex lives or whether active sex lives improve health. At this point, all we know is that they are positively related to each other. 

Quit tobacco without gaining weight

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
You gain a lot of things by quitting tobacco, but weight doesn’t have to be one of them. Learn ways to quit tobacco without gaining extra weight.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the United States. The positive effects of quitting tobacco are numerous: Reduce your risk of lung and other cancers, improve wound healing, decrease risk of infection, and save money. However, a major concern among those who consider quitting tobacco is weight gain. Most people who quit tobacco gain less than 10 lbs, but others gain more than 20 lbs. Many factors contribute to this weight gain, including eating more due to improved sense of smell and taste, boredom, the need to do something with your hands, and metabolic changes that happen after nicotine leaves your body.

Being prepared is essential to preventing weight gain when you quit tobacco. Know your habits: If your hands will be bored without a cigarette, find something else besides food to occupy them. Play with stress balls, silly putty, crosswords, and puzzles to keep your hands busy. Dropping a bad habit such as smoking is also a great time to pick up something new to do with your hands: Knitting, playing an instrument, gardening, and writing are all healthy ways to exercise your hands and your mind.

If you’re craving snacks, reach for fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and water, which help fill you up without a lot of calories. You may be confusing hunger with thirst; try a glass of water to see if that helps your cravings. Bored with plain water? Try calorie-free sparkling or seltzer water, or add lemon or lime slices, mint, berries, or cucumber to your water for a flavorful and refreshing drink.

And if you do find yourself eating more at or between meals, balance it out with exercise. Replace your usual smoking break with a walk outside or even around the office. Increase your usual gym routine; you may find exercise is easier after you quit tobacco.

For help quitting tobacco, or if you find yourself gaining weight no matter what you do, speak with your healthcare provider. And visit U Can Quit 2 and Tobacco-Free Living for additional information and resources. November is the Military Health System’s Tobacco Cessation month, so it’s a great time to make your own plan to quit tobacco. 

Stimulants and other potentially problematic ingredients

Check out our new OPSS FAQs about stimulants and other ingredients found in dietary supplement products that present potential risks.

How do I know if my dietary supplement product contains a stimulant? Are they a potential problem for me? What are peptide hormones and are they safe? Is DMBA the same thing as DMAA? We’ve received many questions on these topics and offer some answers.

Read the newly posted OPSS FAQs for information about:

And while you’re there, check out the other FAQs in OPSS, which can help answer questions you may have about the safe use of dietary supplements.

Read this and then break a sweat

Before you curse the puddle of sweat at your feet after a workout or when you’re out in the heat, think about this: How much you sweat may be an indication of how fit you are.

Sweating is a normal, healthy response to exercise or to a hot environment—it’s our body’s way of regulating temperature. When sweat evaporates, it takes your body heat with it, which cools you down. But did you know that how soon you start sweating also indicates how fit you are? Fitter folks start sweating sooner, and sweat more, than the folks who are not as fit. It seems a conditioned body recognizes the change in environment (or circumstances) sooner responds more quickly than an unconditioned (less fit) one. While sweat isn’t generally a good indicator of how hard you’re working out, or the intensity of exercise, it may be a sign of how conditioned you are.

Note that, while men generally sweat more than women do, it doesn’t mean that men are more fit than women. Men and women even have the same number of sweat glands, but men’s sweat glands produce more sweat per gland.

So next time you find yourself changing out of a sweat-drenched shirt, be proud! You trained hard for that sweat!

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