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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.

Are girls at higher risk of concussion?

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and this year’s theme is “Think Ahead.” If you have a daughter, learn how to reduce her risk of concussion.

Girls might be at greater risk of concussion—also known as mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI)—than boys, so it’s important to recognize their symptoms and seek medical help. Female high school and college athletes report more concussion symptoms than their male counterparts. In addition, their reported symptoms are more severe and last longer than what boys experience.

In sports, a concussion can happen from hitting another player, ball, or surface with your head. It causes a disturbance in brain functioning and can lead to a number of symptoms, including headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, and sensitivity to light or noise. In addition, you might feel foggy, have difficulty concentrating or remembering things, or feel confused about recent events. You also might feel irritable, sad, or nervous. While concussions can happen in any sport, they’re most likely to occur in football, soccer, rugby, basketball, and hockey.

It’s not clear why girls experience more concussions than boys. Girls are more likely to report symptoms, whereas boys tend to keep their concerns to themselves. So it might be the case that boys and girls are concussed at the same rates, but girls report their injuries more often. Hormone levels and blood flow differences in the sexes also might contribute to the rates of concussion among girls. For girls who have entered puberty, hormonal changes experienced along with their menstrual cycles might impact the severity of concussion symptoms. It takes longer for a girl to be symptom free after her concussion, and that might be due in part to where she is in her menstrual cycle.

If you have a daughter, take steps to prevent her from experiencing a concussion. If she is diagnosed with an mTBI, she’ll need “brain rest” to recover. She also should limit reading, homework, and screen time. And consult with her doctor to make sure that concussion symptoms resolve and she’s medically cleared before she returns to play her sport.

Prevent “text neck”

There’s a healthier way to read this article on your mobile device.

Are you reading this article on your smartphone or tablet? Look up for a moment and observe those nearby, staring at their phones. Most people look down at their phones while reading or texting. So, what’s the problem? This posture can be a major pain in the neck—literally. Doctors and researchers are calling it “text neck,” and this poor posture is causing early wear and tear to your spine.

The human head weighs about 10–12 pounds, so looking straight ahead doesn’t add any strain to your spine. But, as you tilt your head forward, the weight of your head begins to increase the strain on your neck and spine. Even a slight, 15-degree angle increases the weight on your spine by about 27 pounds. Looking down at 60 degrees? That’s about 60 pounds. Think about it this way: That’s like carrying a couple of 30-pound ammo cans around your neck for several hours a day.

To limit your risk of text neck, look down at your device with your eyes, not your head. Better yet, hold your device up to eye level. Be aware of your posture and try adding daily exercises that strengthen your back, neck, and shoulders too.

Energize your day with Go for Green®

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Go For Green®
Learn how Go for Green® can take your performance to the next level.

Is what you’re eating helping or hindering your performance? If you’re feeling low in energy, underperforming in the gym, or struggling through your workday, then choose better “fuel.” Go for Green® (G4G) makes it easy to find high-performance foods and beverages to boost your fitness, strength, and health. Look for DoD’s revised G4G initiative in your dining facility or galley to help make nutritious choices that fuel your body and mind, optimizing your energy and performance.

G4G labels foods and beverages with a stoplight system—Green, Yellow, and Red—to identify your best choices for peak performance. Foods are labeled with Low, Moderate, or High sodium symbols to point out sodium content too. Use these tips to build your energy-boosting plate:

  • Aim to fill half your plate with Green-coded foods. You can find healthy, Green-coded choices in every food group: grains, fats, proteins, fruits and vegetables, and dairy.
  • Eat consistently to keep your energy up. For best results, include Green-coded foods and drinks with every meal and snack—and stick to a schedule when possible.
  • Make nutrient-rich foods the easy choice at home and work. You’re more likely to eat what’s easily available, so choose foods that make you want to get up and go. Stock your fridge with Green-coded items, fill your kitchen cabinets with minimally processed foods, and keep a stash of healthy snacks in your desk drawer.

Learn more by visiting HPRC’s G4G section. Make sure to like G4G on Facebook! Connect with the G4G team, share your stories, and post pictures showing how you “Go for Green” using #getgotg4g.

Staying connected during deployments

Filed under: Deployment, Families
How can military families stay connected during deployments? LTC Craig Jenkins, PhD, and Bob Tewksbury offer their insights from working with service members and professional baseball players.

In this HPRC video, Tim Herzog, EdD, LTC Craig Jenkins, PhD, and Bob Tewksbury, EdM, discuss how military families can stay connected during deployments and temporary duty assignments (TDY). Dr. Herzog is a licensed counselor who specializes in mental performance training. Dr. Jenkins is a former Special Forces operational psychologist who went on to work with the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence (USAICoE). Bob Tewksbury, a former major league baseball (MLB) pitcher, became a mental skills coach for several MLB teams, including the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants.

Dr. Jenkins offers insights into how military families can exchange meaningful, handwritten letters to help stay connected with loved ones during deployments. Mr. Tewksbury shares examples of MLB players and their families, who also experience extended periods of separation.

Check out the video below to learn more about their suggestions on how to stay connected during deployments and separations.

Exercise boosts mental health

Learn how regular bouts of exercise can improve your physical health, mental health, and well-being.

Engaging in regular exercise is critical to maintaining optimal physical health and performance. Did you know that it also boosts your mental health and well-being? Some research suggests a strong connection between exercise and the prevention and treatment of psychological illnesses, such as depression and anxiety. Exercise also might help increase positive mental states and support cognitive function throughout your life. In addition, Warfighters and their families can use daily physical activity to remain strong and mission-ready, increase resilience, and boost overall well-being. Read more...

Try the African Heritage Diet

HPRC Fitness Arena: Nutrition, Total Force Fitness
Filed under: Diet, Nutrition
The African Heritage Diet pyramid is an eating guide based on the healthy food traditions of Americans and Caribbean people with African roots. Learn more.

Enjoy a flavorful diet, feel healthier, boost your performance, and lower health risks with the “African Heritage Diet.” The ancestors of African Americans brought wonderful food traditions to America, but many of these traditions have been lost over time. And health has suffered as ways of eating have changed.

African Americans struggle with high rates of obesity, putting them at a disproportionally higher risk of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers. The good news is you can improve your health and performance by including the African Heritage Diet principles in your healthy eating plan—whether or not you’re African American. Keep reading to learn more about this diet. Read more...

Financial incentives and fitness goals

Filed under: Finances, Fitness, Goals
Money is a strong motivator, but can it help you exercise more?

It’s tax season, and finances are on your mind. Financial planning is important and it might help you stay on track with your fitness goals. What motivates you to exercise? Maybe it’s your New Year’s resolution, or you’re training for an upcoming event. The key is finding what works for you, so that you maintain a regular exercise routine.

For many, money can be a strong motivator for maintaining their exercise behaviors. You pay for gym memberships, fitness classes, and fancy exercise equipment—but is spending money a good way to stay motivated?

In general, people often are motivated by immediate gratification (versus being rewarded later) and by losses, rather than gains. Some research suggests that the idea of losing money is a strong motivator for maintaining an exercise program. So, if you pay for a gym membership and never use it, that sense of monetary loss can motivate you to actually go to the gym. Still, the value you place on that membership is important too. You might not feel a significant sense of loss over a $10 monthly gym membership, whereas the threat of losing $200 a month for a different membership might matter more. In one study, money was deducted from some participants’ prepaid accounts each time a fitness goal (walking 7000 steps/day) wasn’t met. Those who “lost” money experienced a greater increase in activity compared to those who were paid each day they met the same goal. For some people, losses feel worse than gains feel good.

You also might consider pre-paid or unlimited-visit gym memberships, where you pay a certain amount up front. And the more often you go, you get more bang for your buck as each class becomes cheaper.

Sometimes you need to “trick yourself” into good behaviors. Are you motivated by losses or gains? Find a trick that works for your wallet and you might find yourself in better shape for it!

Help your child face dental fear

What can parents do to help kids who are afraid of going to the dentist?

It’s important for kids to establish good dental health habits early on, but their fears of visiting the dentist sometimes can get in the way. Still, you can help manage kids’ dental anxieties by talking through worries and explaining upcoming dental procedures.

Kids who don’t go to the dentist are more likely to experience pain, tooth loss, and cavities. The good news is regular dental visits can prevent these and other oral health issues.

Many parents struggle to figure out how to help their anxious little ones feel more comfortable. When kids think their oral health is bad, they also tend to get more anxious about visiting the dentist. Still, there are things you can do to lessen your child’s worry when a dental appointment approaches.

“Coach” your kids’ emotions to help them manage fears before the visit. Validate your child’s worries by saying something such as, “It seems you’re very concerned about what it will be like to go to the dentist tomorrow.” Let your child talk about his or her feelings. And ask her or him why it might be important to visit the dentist. Reassure your child if she or he has good oral health and suggest that the appointment is to make sure nothing goes wrong in the future.

Kids can benefit from age-appropriate, realistic explanations about what to expect on their next visit. Discuss what might help him or her feel calmer and more comfortable. Let your child offer ideas first. If needed, encourage him or her to bring a favorite stuffed toy or suggest doing a fun activity afterwards, so you both have something to look forward to. Distractions, such as watching cartoons during his or her appointment, also can help relieve your child’s anxieties. And gently remind your child how the dentist can help teeth and smiles stay strong and healthy.

At home, make your kids’ oral health a priority by getting into a routine of brushing and flossing from a young age too. Doing so can help prevent tooth decay and illnesses caused by bacteria buildup in the mouth.

Create healthy team environments

Learn how creating healthy team environments can foster performance, well-being, and morale.

Healthy environments create high-performing teams, which makes a big difference in how productive and fulfilled Warfighters feel on a daily basis. Winning teams don’t happen by chance. As leaders, parents, and partners, there are a few ways you can work toward building strong, cohesive, and effective teams at home or in uniform.

One of the most basic building blocks of good teams is a sense of trust and dependability among its members. High-quality connections with others at work and home can be cultivated by creating forums for open, honest, and assertive communication (about both the positive and negative). Encourage transparency and frequent communication about issues that impact daily operations. And remember that communication styles vary from person to person.

Although teams and families operate in units, find ways to identify and support individual strengths and attributes. Individual traits can help build or break down a team. Be proactive about getting to know what each person brings to the table and provide opportunities for them to utilize their strengths.

Create uniform standards of respect among teammates and family members to help boost healthy team environments too. When you identify negative dynamics within your group, openly address them and hold everyone accountable to the same expectations. Be on the lookout for group aggression and hazing. Although some people believe that these behaviors can lead to increased group identification, they actually can tear down morale and cohesion.

The teams that work within our Armed Forces are constantly in a state of flux. Crafting healthy team environments can create stability and security amid an ever-changing military landscape.

Can massage relieve my back pain?

When performed by a licensed massage therapist, massages can help reduce your back pain. Learn more.

If you’re struggling with back pain, therapeutic massage can bring some relief. Some evidence suggests that it can help reduce pain in your lower back and neck too.

There are many different massage techniques, such as Swedish massage, deep-tissue massage, and sports massage. During a massage, a trained therapist applies pressure and other forms of manipulation (such as kneading, circular movements, or tapping) onto muscle and soft tissue. The application of pressure on different layers of skin helps stimulate blood circulation, which could alleviate pain. Massages can increase calmness and decrease anxiety, which also can relieve your pain.

Massages can be particularly effective at alleviating lower back pain, especially when combined with a strengthening and stretching program. Deep-tissue massages can relieve some post-workout muscle pain too. A soft-tissue massage around your shoulders and upper back can increase range of motion and decrease pain as well.

Massages are generally safe, but make sure you seek treatment from a trained professional. Still, a massage isn’t without risk. In rare instances, too much pressure can fracture bones or incorrectly manipulate your spine. A massage on broken, open, or irritated skin can be painful. If you’re pregnant or have a blood-thinning disorder, consult your medical professional before getting a massage.

If you have back pain, ask your doctor or medical professional about adding massages to your pain management plan. TRICARE doesn’t cover massages, but ask if your massage therapist offers discounts for service members and veterans. And, when possible, take steps to avoid injury and back pain.

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