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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.

Train in the heat, perform at altitude?

Learn how training in the heat might help you prepare for performance at altitude.

Can you train in the heat to improve your performance at altitude? The answer is “sort of.” “Cross acclimation” or “cross tolerance” is the idea that exposing yourself to one environmental condition can help you adapt to another one as long as they have certain things in common.

As it turns out, this is the case for heat and hypoxia (low oxygen). This is important because athletes and service members can be exposed to altitude without prior or sufficient acclimatization. Altitude sickness can cause several problems, especially decreased performance. But some evidence shows that this method of training in hot conditions to prepare for altitude can actually work.

If you climb to the top of a mountain, there’s less air and less pressure. And you’re getting less oxygen with each breath. This can be simulated at sea level (in special labs) where pressures are normal, but the amount of oxygen in the air is reduced (fake altitude).

However, there’s a bit of a catch. Training in the heat under artificial low-oxygen conditions—normobaric hypoxia or “fake altitude”—involves normal pressure, which is different from “real altitude” or hypobaric hypoxia, which involves reduced oxygen at low pressure. The difference is in the pressure.

So, do these two environments cause the same types of physiological changes? There are several other factors involved in real-altitude acclimatization that might not be accounted for at fake altitude, so the jury’s still out.  

Training in the heat might prepare you for performance at altitude—to a point. Ideally, if you’re going to be at altitude, try to acclimatize yourself as much as you can.

Considering divorce?

Contemplating divorce can be stressful and confusing. We offer answers to some questions that might be on your mind.

Deciding to end your marriage isn’t easy. Yet divorce is a reality for many couples. There are many issues to consider because it can have a lasting effect on your family, home, health, and job—but especially your well-being.

  • Which couples divorce? There’s no “typical couple” destined to divorce. However, those who frequently argue and rarely spend positive time together are more likely to divorce. The same couples also risk violence and instability in their relationships. Frequent disagreements over money also are linked to higher divorce rates. Still, couples with fewer challenges divorce too.
  • Can therapy help? Counseling offers a neutral place to talk through your thoughts and feelings. Therapists offer an unbiased view with the intent of finding what’s best for the couple. Counselors also encourage them to consider the impact of their actions and help them explore different ways to think and behave. But counseling is only useful when you’re motivated and committed to work towards change. Don’t wait until things become too desperate before seeking help from a therapist or religious leader.
  • What else is there to consider? If you have children, you’re likely to be concerned about what might change for them and how you’ll help them cope. Give some thought to how you’ll maintain your financial security too. And start now to strengthen your social support—your relationships with friends and family—to help you through the process.
  • Why stay? You might choose to remain in the relationship if your spouse is making efforts to change. Still, it’s important to work together to create your optimal relationship. Some aren’t sure if their marriage will last. But they also want to see signs that reaffirm their love, which sometimes helps them decide to stay.

If your relationship is on rocky ground, consider reframing your thoughts about your spouse. And visit HPRC’s Conflict and Communication FAQs section.

Saluting fathers on Father’s Day

Learn how dads help their children become stronger, healthier, and more resilient.

This Father’s Day, HPRC salutes the many fathers who serve their country, families, and children. Dads play an essential role in families because they teach their kids about being healthy, smart, and kind. And it makes a difference.

So how do fathers teach their kids to become good people? Some dads help their children tune in to their own emotions as well as what others are thinking and feeling. Empathic kids are able to tolerate some degree of anger and guilt. And they use these emotions to look out for themselves and others.

School-age children with involved fathers are more likely to earn better grades and enjoy school. Dads can get more involved by helping their kids with homework and attending school events. Ask your kids about what they’re learning and help foster that curiosity.

Try to volunteer when your schedule allows it too. Coach your child’s sports team or serve as a scout leader. Pick whatever activity he or she enjoys—and your athlete or “mathlete” will shine.

Dads also can help put the fun in family fitness. Organize a bike ride, challenging hike, or fun day at the pool. Fathers with healthy-exercise habits help motivate their kids to be physically fit and active.

Remember to teach your children how to fuel their bodies. Set a good example for your kids to follow. Choose healthy snacks and drinks often because your kids are likely to eat and drink “what Dad’s having.” And ask them to help create your favorite salsa, pancakes, and chili in the kitchen. Make sure to involve the entire family during cleanup too.

Fathers near and far: Thanks for all you do! 

Waking up after sleep cycles is overrated

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Mind-body, Sleep
Do you need to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle to get the full benefits of sleep? Learn more about sleep cycles.

When you wake up at the end of a sleep cycle, you initially feel rested and fresh. If you wake up before a sleep cycle finishes, you’ll probably feel groggy. However, you still get the benefits of that sleep. Here’s how it works: There are 5 stages of brain activity in one sleep cycle. And each cycle lasts about 90–120 minutes. You fall asleep during the earlier stages.

Next, you experience deep, restful sleep. Your heart rate and breathing slow down during these stages, while your body remains still. Your brain is most active during the final sleep stage. As you dream, your eyes move under your eyelids in rapid eye movement (REM). If you wake up during these later stages, you’ll likely feel groggy. You’ll feel more rested waking up at the end of a sleep cycle (ideally in the morning, after several sleep cycles). Or you can feel refreshed waking up after a 20–30 minute nap (before you enter deep sleep).

Sleeping 8–9 hours every day is important—however it happens. And you can shake off any grogginess or “sleep inertia” if you take 15–30 minutes to fully awaken. Standing upright and spending time in light—ideally daylight—can help! As long as you have enough time to fully overcome sleep inertia, you might find that the benefits of a little extra sleep are worth it.

Don’t worry about getting enough deep sleep or REM sleep. Trust your body! It has an amazing ability to recuperate when you catch up on sleep. And it will quickly fall into whatever stage of sleep you need most.

Policies on hemp

What does your service say about consuming products made with hemp?

Hemp is turning up in a variety of foods, beverages, and dietary supplements, and most service members need to keep an eye out for this ingredient on product labels. While hemp provides important nutrients such as protein, it also contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana. The levels of THC in hemp used for food and supplements are much lower than those in marijuana, so products containing hemp shouldn’t get you “high.” But don’t run to the store just yet! Although DoD does not have a specific policy regarding hemp, each service does. Check the OPSS FAQ about hemp for your service’s policy on hemp.

The “new” Nutrition Facts panel

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
The Nutrition Facts panel for packaged food labels is getting an update! It’s easier to read and can help you make more-informed decisions when choosing foods.

The Food and Drug Administration just unveiled an updated Nutrition Facts panel, which is easier to read and reflects the 2015–2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Recently revised after 20 years, this new format must appear on all packaged foods by July 2018 (with some exceptions). These are the facts to know:

  • Highlighted calories, servings per container, and serving sizes. This information is larger and bold, making it easier to find at a glance.
  • Vitamin D and potassium. These are now listed, since many Americans don’t get enough of these important minerals. Vitamin D maintains bone health, and potassium can help reduce blood pressure. Vitamins A and C are no longer included since deficiencies of these are rare.
  • Added sugars. “Total Sugars” includes what’s added and what’s naturally occurring (but with “Added Sugars” also noted separately). This new information is especially important for those who are managing their nutritional needs and limiting their calories to less than 10% from added sugars.
  • Updated “Serving size.” These now match what people typically eat or drink. For example, a single serving of soda might be 12 or 20 oz., depending on the packaging.
  • Clearer footnote. The footnote better explains what “% Daily Value” means.
  • Multiple serving sizes. Some packages, such as a pint of ice cream, include two columns: “per serving” and “per package.” This makes it easier to choose whether to eat or drink one serving—or the entire package—at one time.

Watch for the new Nutrition Facts panel to appear on your favorite packages soon. In the meantime, you can view it below.

Thumbnail for May 2016 Nutrition Facts Label

“Bromances” and stress

What does the behavior of rats suggest about how “bromances” might help men under stress?

Close relationships provide social support that can help relieve stress. One type we don’t know much about is “bromances”—close friendships between two men—but how these help or hurt stress levels isn’t clear.

It’s hard to do scientific research on this topic with humans because it would involve intentionally stressing people out to see how they respond. Who would volunteer for that?! So instead, scientists who study human social behavior use rats, which have social behavior very similar to that of humans. To learn more about the impact of bromances on stress, they observed male rat “friendships” under stressful situations. Here’s what they found.

Under mildly stressful situations, male rats became more social and cooperative with other male rats, compared to when they weren’t stressed. The rats’ oxytocin levels increased. They touched and snuggled other male rats more. Under severely stressful situations though, the male rats’ behavior changed. They were no longer cooperative and became withdrawn, isolated, and aggressive.

Of course, people aren’t rats, and one research study is never a good foundation for reliable conclusions, often raising more questions than it answers. However, it can give us “food for thought.” One idea from this study is that bromances seem beneficial, depending on stress level. Your friendships with other guys might help keep mild stress at bay. So spending time with your fellow men just might help you feel calmer.

Yet in severely stressful situations, bromances didn’t serve the same purpose. The rats became disconnected and hostile. Could the same be true for male humans? We can’t say for sure, but men exposed to severely stressful situations that result in PTSD sometimes have similar reactions.

Looking for ways to beef up your own stress-management skills? Check out HPRC’s Stress Management Strategies section. Concerned about your friend’s or spouse’s reaction to stress? Our Post-Deployment section has some resources to help.  

Blisters: Sock it to ‘em

Get off on the right foot! Learn how to prevent blisters.

There are “steps” you can take to protect your feet from blisters. Common among athletes and service members, they might seem like a minor nuisance. However, if left untreated, they can lead to serious infections, sepsis (blood infection), and knee, ankle, or hip injuries.

Blisters result from a combination of friction and moisture. They’ve been blamed on shoe fit or lacing style, but scientific research has shown this isn’t necessarily the case. Common remedies—such as applying antiperspirant or drying powders to the bottom of the foot—aren’t very effective. And in some instances, they can cause irritation, increasing your chances of developing more blisters.

So if friction and moisture are causing problems, then wearing proper socks can bring relief. Look for ones made from acrylic fibers or materials other than cotton, which tends to stay wet. Synthetic materials (nylon, neoprene, and polyester) reduce the amount of shoe-to-sock and sock-to-foot friction by wicking moisture away from your skin. Padded socks also help because they allow for movement within the yarn, reducing frictional forces.

Some evidence suggests wearing a synthetic nylon or polyester liner with an outer-padded wool sock can help prevent blisters. Tip: Try finding your ideal sock before buying boots or shoes because the added bulk might affect the shoe size you need.

You also can reduce your risk of blisters by planning ahead, especially on extremely hot or rainy days. Avoid puddles. Remember to bring an extra pair of socks too. And avoid pouring water on your head since it can drip down into your shoes. Keep your feet happy and blister-free. 

Support for men with cancer

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Cancer, Support
Find out how cancer-support groups help men connect with others, share information, and learn coping strategies.

Men with cancer, especially those in the military, might hesitate to tap into helpful resources such as support groups that offer information and encouragement. Battles with cancer often trigger feelings of fear and vulnerability, and men are socialized from childhood to believe that it’s “weak” to show sensitivity. Just because men don’t express their emotions often doesn’t mean they don’t feel them. And it doesn’t mean they should have to face cancer and related challenges alone.

There’s a difference between “dwelling” on your feelings and expressing them. Speaking up often helps men process their emotions and feel less troubled. Sharing doesn’t always feel like the thing to do; the support environment makes a big difference. So what’s an optimal support group? Some men with cancer prefer these 3 qualities:

  • being able to connect with others,
  • participating in mixed-gender groups, and
  • meeting those with mixed diagnoses.

There are other factors to consider too. Some support groups are led by professionals, while others are led by cancer survivors. Some are disease-specific (for example, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers). Some groups are age- or gender-specific (for example, young adults, men, women, etc.), while others are time-limited, such as a 6-week series for those newly diagnosed. 

But there are trade-offs, since these groups support different coping needs. While a mixed-gender group with various diagnoses can help you express yourself more easily, you might also benefit from one that shares specific information and uses a problem-solving approach.

HPRC offers helpful tips on using emotion-focused and problem-solving coping strategies. And visit the Cancer Support Community to find a local support group that works for you.

Supplements to boost your T

What does the science say about testosterone boosters and their ability to enhance your performance in the gym and in the bedroom?

Before you reach for dietary supplements marketed as “testosterone boosters,” consider this: They probably won’t produce the results you’re looking for, and while some of the ingredients in these products might not be cause for concern, others might put your health and career at risk. To learn more about the safety and effectiveness these types of supplements, visit the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ about testosterone boosters. However, if you’re concerned about your testosterone levels or if you’re experiencing related symptoms such as low sex drive, insomnia, or depression, talk to your healthcare provider.   

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