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.
The brain can “feel” pain even after an arm and/or leg amputation, but a new treatment using mirrors can provide some relief. This common phenomenon, known as phantom limb pain (PLP), occurs in at least 75% of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veteran amputees. Although its causes aren’t fully understood, one theory is that there’s a mismatch between what your brain sees and what it feels.
Mirror therapy offers a promising treatment for those suffering from PLP. A long mirror is placed between the patient’s legs and set to face the intact limb. As the patient moves and watches the intact limb in the mirror’s reflection, the brain is “tricked” into seeing the missing limb. The brain “sees” the phantom limb moving in the mirror and quiets busy activity or bad memories. The mirror positively stimulates the brain, causing reorganization or rewiring; this helps relieve PLP.
Healthcare providers have successfully used mirror therapy to help single-limb amputees. They’ve also adjusted the approach for double-limb amputees. Using an adapted method, a physical therapist (PT) acts as the mirror. The PT sits beside the patient and then mimics or “mirrors” the amputee’s phantom limbs with his/her intact limbs. For example, if a patient complains of calf cramps, the PT can stretch his/her own calves while the patient observes and feels relief in their phantom limbs. They’re currently working on using virtual reality to take the approach a step further.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain development and function, but they also may help protect against damage from concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Several animal studies have shown that omega-3 supplements given before or after a traumatic event not only reduce the severity of damage in certain parts of the brain but also improve mental performance during recovery. Similar studies haven’t been conducted with humans yet, and although the results of these animal studies are promising, there isn’t enough current evidence to recommend taking omega-3 or fish oil supplements to reduce the risk of or assist in the recovery from concussions or TBIs. In addition, FDA has warned consumers to avoid using products marketed for these purposes. For more information, please read FDA’s Consumer Update.
Although omega-3 supplements haven’t been proven to help with TBIs, omega-3s are still important for your brain, heart, and overall health. It’s best to get your omega-3s from food, but if you choose to take supplements, do so under the supervision of your doctor. For more information on omega-3 supplements, please visit “Omega-3 Supplements: In Depth” from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
The U.S. Departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) just released the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines help shape policies for school lunch and breakfast programs, Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC), and nourishment programs for the elderly and military. The skinny is that they’re based on evolving nutrition science. They offer practical guidance on how to develop a nutrition plan too. Remember you can also seek a dietitian’s help to meet your goals towards healthy eating and performing well. Read more here.
This summer marks the 36th annual National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG). The events, co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, begin on June 27, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Registration deadline is April 15, 2016. Register early as events fill up fast. Any veteran who uses a wheelchair for sport and is eligible for care in the VA system (due to spinal cord injury, Multiple Sclerosis, amputation, or neurological condition) can participate. Need some motivation? Check out this video from last year’s games.
We’re always looking for sponsors and volunteers to help with NVWG activities—come on out and support our vets!
Don’t let cold weather freeze your exercise routine. Use these tips to stay motivated, safe, and warm.
- Dress in layers. Choose synthetic materials such as polyester or polypropylene that stay close to the skin. Avoid cotton since it soaks up sweat! You can always remove layers as you get warmer.
- Protect your extremities—especially your fingers, toes, and ears. Circulation to these areas decreases in cold weather.
- Check the forecast. Wind chill, snow, and rain can make your body more vulnerable to the outside temperatures. Plan an indoor workout when the wind chill is extreme or the temperature drops below 0°F.
- Apply sunblock. You can still get sunburned in the winter so don’t forget the sunscreen!
- Stay hydrated. When exercising in cold climates, don’t rely on thirst to indicate hydration since you usually don’t feel as thirsty in cold temperatures. You need to stay just as hydrated in cold weather as you do when it’s hot outside.
- Ask your doctor. Certain symptoms might worsen in cold weather if you have asthma, heart issues, or Raynaud’s disease (when specific body parts feel numb due to to cold temperatures or stress). Talk to a healthcare professional about your concerns before heading outside for your cold-weather workout.
Have you been watching what you eat and exercising regularly, but for some reason, the scale just won’t budge? You might be at a “plateau” in your weight-loss journey. But with continued effort and persistence, you can do it! If you want to shed those last few pounds, try these ideas on for size:
- Track it. To keep old, unhealthy eating habits at bay, keep a food diary or record your intake through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) SuperTracker. This online program helps you see where your calories are coming from. Don’t forget to watch your portion sizes too.
- Stick to your plan. Remember the fundamentals of a healthy eating plan: nutrient-rich, lean sources of protein such as fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. Make sure to include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables too. It’s okay to indulge a little, but too many “cheat days” can ruin all your hard work.
- Eat protein. Protein helps preserve lean body mass (muscle) during weight loss, promote fat loss, and contribute to a feeling of fullness. Use HPRC’s Protein Requirements infosheet to calculate your individual protein needs.
- Rethink your drinks. Alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages such as soda, sweet tea, juice, energy drinks, and sports drinks can add too many calories and prevent you from losing weight. Stick to water and low-fat milk (or soymilk) during meals and in-between to stay hydrated. Three servings of milk per day is the limit though!
- Shake things up. Varying the type, intensity, duration, and frequency of your exercise is a great way to challenge yourself and prevent boredom—and it can make a big difference toward reaching your goal.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is better for your health, career, and performance.
Fear of failure can prevent you from performing your best in many situations including combat, work, relationships, and daily life. Worry can take a bigger hold when you push it aside. For instance, while preparing to give a presentation and thinking, “I can’t be nervous,” you might actually feel more nervous!
As you face your fears, understand that fearing something will happen doesn't mean that it will happen. Ask yourself these kinds of questions:
- Why do I think I can’t be nervous? If I’m nervous, I’ll give a horrible talk.
- So if I’m nervous, I’m guaranteed to give a horrible talk? No, I’ve given good talks while nervous before.
- If nervousness leads to giving an awful talk, what’s the worst thing about that? I’d be embarrassed and people would walk away without having learned important material.
- What’s worse—embarrassment or people walking away without learning? I’d survive the embarrassment. People need to learn this stuff.
- Is this their last opportunity to learn? No, I’d take more steps to make sure they got it, despite an initially awful talk.
Have you decided to separate from the military? If your estimated time of separation (ETS) date has arrived, you’ve probably checked off your long to-do list and officially become a veteran. This can be an exciting and emotional time. Regardless of your reason for separating, this is a time of transition for your entire family. Here are some tips for easing your path to civilian life. Read more here.
Looking for some answers to basic fitness questions? You’re not alone. We’ve created a FAQ section on topics we hear a lot about. Whether you want to know about flexibility, cardiovascular fitness, injury prevention, or workout routines—we have the answers. Still can’t find what you’re looking for? Submit your question using our Ask the Expert feature. We’ll provide an evidence-based answer to keep you informed and in shape.
Check back often to learn the latest and greatest information on exercising, optimizing performance, and staying resilient.
Chia (Salvia hispanica) seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. As such, they have become a popular food item, and you can also find chia (seeds and oil) in many dietary supplements marketed to support heart and digestive health. On its own, chia will not produce a positive drug test. However, when you look at ingredient lists on product labels, don’t confuse Salvia hispanica (chia) with Salvia divinorum (Diviner’s sage), which is banned by some services. There are many types of salvia, so please read the OPSS FAQ about salvia for more information. If you’re interested in learning more about chia seeds, visit this webpage from MedlinePlus.