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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.

Enhancing caregiver resilience

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
Caregivers of wounded, ill, and transitioning Warfighters need to stay resilient in the face of immense stress. Read on to learn a few strategies.

Caregivers are a pillar of strength for Warfighters who struggle with trauma, illness, or injury, but caring can come at a cost. Perhaps as many as 1 million spouses, siblings, parents, and friends are former or current caregivers for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans alone. Military caregivers serve a critical role—from managing day-to-day activities, to being a legal advocate, to helping navigate a complex health system—all the while juggling career and family responsibilities. If you’re a caregiver, here are a few ways to build and maintain your resilience:

  • Grow a robust support network. Just because others rely on you doesn’t mean you don’t need your own support system. The kinds of support most helpful for caregivers include sources of medical information, training opportunities, and networking with other caregivers. Within your family, be sure to regularly strengthen ties with each other and find opportunities to experience positive emotions.
  • Set collective goals. Caregivers often abandon their own personal goals and aspirations to care for others and feel guilty when doing things for themselves. Creating shared goals that you can reach for together can shift the perception from caregiver and care-receiver to a partnership. Overcoming obstacles in areas outside of recovery can increase teamwork and boost morale and motivation.
  • Embrace the suck. Cultivating optimism offers many benefits in the recovery process, but unrealistic optimism can impede effective problem solving and lead to feeling disappointed. It also can feel oppressive having to “always be positive” on days when nothing seems to be working. When you have bad days, practice acceptance and compassion. Suffering makes way for meaning, and if today isn’t a good day, reflect on what you might learn from it, and let it go.

Caregivers enable Warfighter resilience, but they often need to bolster their own ability to bounce back. You also can try these other helpful tips for caregivers. November is Warrior Care Month. For more information, visit the Office of Warrior Care Policy.

LGB service members and unit cohesion

Filed under: LGBT, Sexuality, Teams
What impact do lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members have on unit cohesion?

When it was first announced that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) service members could openly serve in the military, some suggested unit cohesion—how teammates unite, stick together, and remain close—would suffer. Others wondered whether missions would be successful and if straight service members would be comfortable sharing bathrooms and showers with their LGB peers.

Since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2011, there’s been little evidence to suggest negative effects on unit cohesion or the military’s ability to carry out missions. Similarly, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has observed no changes in military performance or unit cohesion since it began allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in 1993. Shared dedication to a mission enhances performance and builds unit cohesion.

Since the repeal of DADT, LGB service members can serve without fear of being harassed or discharged. This enables them to fully devote their attention to their jobs. It’s possible the repeal also will help reduce rates of substance abuse and mental health struggles among LGB service members because they might no longer endure the stigma and stress from hiding their sexual orientation. In addition, straight service members report feeling comfortable working alongside their LGB teammates.

Read more about the DoD policies on sexual orientation and gender identity in HPRC’s Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy FAQs section and about sex and the military on our Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy Resources page.

Compression garments: Do they work?

Compression socks, sleeves, and other garments are popular among athletes, but do they actually increase performance and decrease recovery times?

Compression garments come in a variety of sleeves, socks, shorts, and full-body suits. The amount of pressure, or compression, they provide depends on the type and size of the garment. Compression garments help push blood toward your heart and prevent it from “pooling” or collecting in the compressed areas. Compression sleeves also are used in clinical settings for those with lymphedema, where blood circulation is poor, or to prevent blood clots.

But can they increase your performance and decrease your recovery times? Compression garments have been shown to help blood flow to working muscles during exercise, but that necessarily doesn’t translate to better performance. Most studies look at compression socks during running, and most evidence suggests no difference in athletes’ performance levels during runs when compared to those not wearing compression socks. In addition, there’s no decrease in recovery time or blood-lactate levels.

Still, those wearing compression socks report “feeling better” and “less tiredness” in their legs during their runs. They also feel less sore following the exercise bout. And while there might not be an actual benefit of wearing compression gear, if you feel better wearing it—either during or after exercise—then keep doing what works!

Creatine supplements

Can creatine help you perform better?

Creatine supplements are popular among athletes and Warfighters trying to enhance their strength and muscle size. Unlike many other supplements, there is considerable evidence that taking creatine supplements might result in greater gains in body mass and strength when combined with resistance training. However, not all athletes or Warfighters will experience the same benefits from consuming creatine supplements, especially those focused on endurance training. And although there are few safety concerns associated with creatine, it’s still important to use it under the guidance of a healthcare provider. Read more...

Group aggression and hazing

Filed under: Aggression, Hazing, Teams
Some think group aggression and hazing are ways to improve team commitment, but these acts can be dangerous. Hazing also is punishable in the military. Learn more.

While initiation activities have long been a part of military culture, group aggression and hazing contradict the values of dignity and respect championed by the Armed Forces. Group aggression and hazing can put service members at risk of injury and impact team unity.

Aggression is behavior—including any action taken or situation created—that intends to cause harm to someone who doesn’t want to be harmed. Group aggression is the active use of violence by one group against another group. Hazing is an example of group aggression: It’s the act of forcing new team members to endure unsafe, painful, or embarrassing rituals as part of their initiation into a group. Victims experience physical and emotional abuse that goes beyond military-sanctioned ceremonies that build team commitment.

Group aggression is more common than individual aggression. It’s possible that when people feel they’re less identifiable, they’re more likely to be aggressive. For example, you blend in with your teammates and your group might collectively take the blame for any one act—which can feel less punitive then being punished on your own. In addition, aggression often provokes even more bad behavior within groups. Hazing might go unnoticed in the military partly due to its internal hierarchy that can make it hard to identify such hostile acts.

Hazing and group aggression don’t always improve cohesion, bonding, or commitment among teammates. And some victims are at risk of physical trauma, psychological abuse, and even death.

Strong teams are based on respect and dignity, where members feel supported and empowered. Team building should lead to pride in your group and integrity among its members.

Learn more about the different branch policies:

Swimmers: Don’t hold your breath

HPRC Fitness Arena: Environment, Total Force Fitness
What is hypoxic blackout and how can you prevent it?

Swimmers and free divers who hyperventilate before holding their breath for long periods underwater are at risk of hypoxic blackout—loss of consciousness—that can result in brain damage and death. (It sometimes is known as “shallow water blackout,” but this can be confusing because there are other causes of “shallow water blackout.”)

Hypoxic blackout often affects skilled, fit, and competitive swimmers and free divers. They practice breath holding or hypoxic training in water to increase their ability to hold their breath for longer periods of time. But depending on the technique, this can be a dangerous practice.

Breathing is a process of exhaling carbon dioxide (CO2) and inhaling oxygen. The actual urge to breathe is caused by a buildup of CO2 within your lungs. If you simply try to hold your breath underwater, the physiological urge to breathe will eventually take over so there isn’t a significant risk of “passing out.” However, some swimmers and free divers have found that if they hyperventilate before diving into the water —either by rapid breathing or taking deeper breaths—they can hold their breath for longer periods of time. It’s the act of hyperventilating that can be deadly.

When you hyperventilate before underwater swimming, the amount of CO2 is reduced in your lungs and the urge to breathe is diminished. Without warning, you can lose consciousness—at which point a breath is forced and water fills your lungs. Unless rescue is immediate, brain damage and death are likely outcomes.

Training with instructors and a skilled free-dive or swimming community will help reduce your risk of tragic accidents. In addition, there are other things you can do to avoid hypoxic blackouts.

  • Don’t hyperventilate before underwater swimming.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Don’t ignore the urge to breathe underwater. 

Making light of darker days

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
You don’t have to let the cooler weather and darker days get you down.

It’s almost time to turn the clock back, and for some people, this time of year signals darker days ahead. Shorter days and less exposure to light are no longer thought to directly cause increases in depressive disorders. However, you might still observe noticeable shifts in your mood, behavior, motivation, and even your diet and physical activity routines during this time of year. The increasing darkness and downshift in temperature don’t have to mean the same for your well-being. If falling back is a time you dread, try these tips to create light in the darker days:

  • Take care of yourself. Remember that optimal performance requires recovery. Autumn is the perfect opportunity to take time for yourself. Bank some sleep before you have to run around or travel for the holidays. Get in a few extra workouts so you can savor a piece of pie at Thanksgiving dinner without the side of guilt. Rest now so that you can be resilient later.
  • Set new SMART goals. You don’t have to wait until the New Year to set resolutions. This is a great time of year to assess the goals you want to work toward in the coming year and begin establishing daily habits early, long before the ball drops in Times Square. Doing an azimuth check now can help to keep you on track through the busy holiday season and reignite a sense of purpose.
  • Perspective matters. Some of the reasons why you might feel sluggish and unmotivated during of the change in season are a proxy of your expectations: You think you’re supposed to feel that way, and so you do. Try shifting your lens. Are there things you can look forward to in the winter? Maybe you want to dig into that book you’ve put aside? Break out your snowboard and plan a trip? Focusing on what you’re anticipating rather than what you dread can make a world of difference.

Fall and winter don’t have to become the seasons of your discontent. The grass will be greener when things warm up again, but make sure you take advantage of now to enhance your well-being.

Fuel up with apples

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Discover new ways to enjoy nutrient-rich apples every day. Learn how they can help keep you fueled and lower your risk of some illnesses too.

Eating an apple every day might “keep the doctor away,” but apples can be a perfect choice for those who want to eat healthy and perform well. They contain flavonoids, which can help reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. Apples also can help lower cholesterol and blood glucose, which is especially important for those with diabetes. Trying to lose weight? Apples are good sources of fiber, helping you feel fuller longer.

Unlike most fruits, apples are available year-round and generally less expensive. Since there are over 7,000 varieties in the U.S., you might find some favorites. And remember to eat the peel because it contains valuable vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

On average, Americans eat one apple each week. Why not add apples to your daily eating routine?

  • Breakfast. Grate and stir into pancake mix or oatmeal for added flavor.
  • Lunch. Chop and add to your favorite green salad. Or mix with dried cranberries and chicken or turkey salad.
  • Post-workout snack. Enjoy with nut butter to help rebuild muscles and replenish energy stores. Or simply eat one out of hand.
  • Dinner. Slice and bake with pork chops for a tasty fall meal. Or add some to your holiday stuffing. Tip: Mix grated green apple with purple-cabbage salad mix, ⅓ cup cider vinegar, and 1 Tbsp sugar for a colorful, crunchy coleslaw.
  • Dessert. Core and fill the center with raisins, 1 tsp brown sugar, and a dash of cinnamon. Microwave until soft and then top with vanilla frozen yogurt.

Weighing in on green coffee beans

Green coffee bean extract is popular for weight loss, but don’t be fooled by all the hype surrounding this dietary supplement ingredient.

Green coffee bean extract has been available in dietary supplements for quite some time, but despite the hype and popularity of this ingredient, there’s little science to support its use as a weight-loss aid. Green coffee beans are the raw, unroasted seeds or “beans” of the Coffea plant. Similar to your morning cup of coffee, they contain caffeine in addition to a chemical called chlorogenic acid. The difference, though, is that green coffee beans contain more chlorogenic acid because roasting reduces the amount of chlorogenic acid in coffee beans.

Chlorogenic acid supposedly offers some health benefits, but don’t believe everything you hear (or read) about green coffee beans supplements for weight loss; there just isn’t enough evidence to back up these claims. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) charged a company for using deceptive weight-loss claims to market a green coffee bean supplement. Read more about this in FTC’s Press Release.

Stepmothers

A stepmother can significantly impact her stepchildren’s lives. Understanding her role in the family is an important first step.

It can be challenging to explain and understand a stepmother’s responsibilities when a new stepfamily is formed, but there are ways to support her “new” parenting role. Stepfamilies form when a child’s mother or father marries someone after his or her relationship with the child’s other parent has ended.

It’s important for stepmothers to build strong relationships with their stepchildren, but this sometimes can be tricky. A stepmother often has to strike a balance between bonding with her stepchildren while also respecting the limitations of not being a biological parent, especially when her stepchildren’s other parent remains active in their lives. Stepmothers sometimes can feel confused about what their roles should be, and this can lead to insecurity. Stepmoms also might feel they’re expected to do many household and childcare tasks even though they’re not considered parents. It can be hard for a stepmother to see her spouse’s involvement with the children—playing a role she’s unable to play—and continued contact with the children’s other parent too. And stepchildren can feel unsure about how their stepmother will fit into their lives.

Still, when stepfamilies live together at least half-time, stepmothers tend to be happier in their marriages and closer to their stepchildren. Successful stepmothers develop a parental mindset and work to define their roles in their new families. In addition, communication that focuses on strong listening skills and avoids criticism or contempt can help a stepmother and her spouse agree on her role and how they’ll support each other as parents and partners.

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