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.
A recent American Psychological Association press release focused on the overall effectiveness of brain training programs as explored in a review of research that appeared in the Journal of Developmental Psychology. It turns out that not only are these exercises ineffective for treating cognitive disorders such as ADHD, but their effectiveness on improving brain function and intelligence in healthy adults and children is minimal. In fact, the effects weren’t comprehensive and didn’t last long.
If you’re looking to increase cognitive performance, mindfulness training such as meditation may be a good bet. Although mindfulness meditation is a relatively young field of study, so far studies indicate that regular practice has a positive effect on memory, attention, and mood regulation.
A new dietary supplement ingredient, dendrobium, is appearing rapidly in dietary supplement products promoted to boost athletic performance. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, manufacturers claim that dendrobium is a natural source of the stimulant phenylethylamine, but some researchers say that phenylethylamine doesn’t occur naturally in dendrobium. Phenylethylamine is a stimulant, with effects similar to those of amphetamines. At this time, the safety of dendrobium is unknown, so users should be aware that products containing this ingredient might be unsafe, particularly when used in combination with exercise.
Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) is about to launch this summer and will answer many of your questions about Dietary Supplements. Watch for HPRC’s announcement coming soon.
Do you know about the CREDO program run by the Navy? This chaplain-run program is all about building individual and family resilience. CREDO offers a variety of one-day and weekend retreat-like events aimed at enriching the lives of participants and their relationships. CREDO provides Warfighters and their families an opportunity to build self-esteem and self-understanding, learn respect for themselves and others, accept responsibility for their lives, and develop a healthy spirituality.
If you are interested in finding out more about CREDO, check out HPRC’s Military Family Tools: Assessments & Online Workshops page, and visit HPRC's Military Family Skills for more information on military-specific strategies for families.
The rate of amputee soldiers returning to active duty is at an all-time high. In the 1980s only about 2.3% of amputees returned to duty; the rate among Iraq/Afghanistan veterans is 16.5%. A lot of factors have contributed to this increase, but the most influential is unquestionably the advancement in technology. We now have centralized centers for amputee care that provide state-of-the-art custom rehabilitation, the most up-to-date prosthetic devices, and peer therapy. These centers enable wounded active duty members to rehabilitate together—interaction that is crucial for recovery. Rehabilitation is now specifically tailored to meet each Warfighter’s needs, and is geared towards the goals he or she has set for the future.
In order to return to active duty, a wounded warrior needs to obtain a final disposition of “fit for duty” from the Physical Evaluation Board (PEB). To do this, he or she must demonstrate a level of function with a prosthesis that exceeds basic movement skills, such as engaging in a high-impact activity typical for an active adult or athlete - i.e., box jumps or sprints. Despite the vast advances in prostheses, rehabilitation therapists mention that it’s the warrior’s drive and motivation that returns him or her to work.
Yoga’s popularity is growing in the United States, but many Americans are still not familiar with the details of this ancient practice. Yoga roots are holistic in nature—body and mind are of equal importance, and the asanas, or poses, which define yoga for many of us, are only one aspect of practice. Together with meditation and breath control, yoga promotes strength, flexibility, and awareness of body and mind. Yoga can help achieve wellness through meditation, deep relaxation, stretching, and breathing. Several organizations are now beginning to provide yoga classes tailored to veterans and active-duty service members who suffer from combat stress. VA facilities, Warrior Transition Units, and civilian studios are using it to complement traditional treatment of patients with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Individuals who struggle with PTSD describe it as a feeling of disconnectedness from themselves and others. Yoga, which means “bringing together parts as a whole,” helps people feel connected again. One traditional type of yoga that has been shown to decrease anxiety in the military population is sensory-enhanced hatha yoga, which involves breathing, meditation, and certain poses. A specific benefit reported by participants in sensory-enhanced yoga was a decrease in insomnia. Combat-stressed adults also experienced reduced hyperarousal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and rage. Integrative Restoration (iRest) is a yoga-based meditative practice that teaches a person to focus on breathing when a negative memory arises. Soldiers and marines have expressed satisfaction in these breathing techniques because of the method’s simplicity and ease. It allows a person to regain control over his/her thoughts whenever symptoms of PTSD present themselves. A study found that iRest decreases rage, anxiety, and emotional reactivity all of which encourage negative thoughts and memories. Those practicing iRest also reported increased feelings of relaxation, peace, self-awareness, and self-efficacy. Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) was one of the first military facilities to research the outcomes of yoga for veterans and active-duty warriors suffering from PTSD. WRAMC immediately added iRest to its weekly treatment programs for soldiers suffering from PTSD and TBI after observing its effects: increased calm and peaceful feelings, less severe reactions to situations, and increased outlook on life.
There are many more yoga practices than the ones mentioned here, and each yoga method is different, so you can find the right one for you!
Although there are individual differences in sleep needs, most people need seven to eight hours of sleep at night to function optimally, and anyone who sleeps only four to five hours each night will experience some loss of performance. Sleep loss hinders your ability to accurately interpret the emotions of others and identify what they’re feeling. Specifically, sleep loss impacts your ability to interpret the emotions anger and happiness expressed in the faces of others, making it difficult to interact effectively and communicate clearly with the people around you, reducing one’s ability to maintain good relationships.
It’s been commonly thought that exercise can ward off the effects of sleep loss, but it turns out that exercise only mitigates sleepiness and fatigue for an hour and doesn’t seem to have any effect on boosting performance throughout the day. Although regular exercise—both strength training and high-intensity endurance—does help you sleep better, it can’t replace lack of sleep—only actual sleep will do that. The loss of sleep affects physical performance primarily by reducing your motivation to exercise—so, when thinking about your workout plan for the week, include a plan to get enough sleep.
For information on how to improve the quality and length of your sleep, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics Sleep Optimization section. For information on how sleep loss impacts other areas of fitness, check out the HPRC’s Total Force Fitness article The impact of sleep loss on total fitness, and for information on physical fitness check out HPRC’s Physical Fitness domain.
Preparation for the PFT/PRT takes time and discipline. Training for the test should not be something you start the week prior, and the habits you begin leading up to the test should be ones you continue after the test. Weekend warriors and procrastinators are at greater risk for injury, and it’s likely that performance will be less than optimal when it comes time for PFT/PRT. If you’re just getting back into shape, be sure to do it gradually. Once you’ve resumed a regular exercise routine you may notice aches and pains associated with getting back in shape. Listen to your body. Be vigilant for symptoms of overuse injuries and knee pain, which are common athletic injuries. It’s important to address these issues early to minimize any damage and get you back in action as soon as possible. Maintaining your exercise routine after the PFT/PRT and challenging yourself along the way will keep you in soldier-athlete shape year round, and prevent deconditioning. Check back to past articles on cardiovascular, muscular and mobility fitness for guidelines and tips.
It’s always a good idea to replace old sunscreen, but next summer you’ll have even more reason to do so. Sunscreen companies have until December 2012 to revise their labels to abide by FDA’s new guidelines. The new labels will prevent manufacturers from false advertising with respect to the level of protection they provide. Sunscreens also will have to go through FDA’s testing to determine their effectiveness.
The new guidelines are summarized below:
Broad-spectrum designation: Sunscreens will have to pass FDA’s broad-spectrum test to be labeled as such. This confirms the sunscreen protects against both ultraviolet A and B rays, both of which contribute to skin cancer and early skin aging.
Use claim: Only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher can claim to reduce skin cancer risk and early skin aging if used as directed. Sunscreens with SPFs between 2 and 14 can claim only to help prevent sunburn.
Waterproof, sweatproof, and sunblock claims: Sunscreens will no longer be able to claim they are waterproof, sweat-proof, or “sunblock,” since those claims over-exaggerate their effectiveness. No sunscreen is waterproof or sweat-proof without the proper reapplication. Also, sunscreens do not “block” the sun; they reduce the penetration of the ultraviolet rays.
Water-resistance claims: Any sunscreen with a “water-resistant” label must indicate whether it is effective for 40 or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating.
Drug facts: All sunscreens must include standard drug-facts information on the label.
Dealing with the stress of deployment and re-adjusting to home life post-deployment can be tough. It’s important to focus on managing your stress, finding ways to cope, and building your resilience. According to Real Warriors, you can get “behaviorally fit” by managing stress and reaching out to others. Among several tips offered is how to deal with problems as they come—head on. Don’t avoid discussing tough issues or finding ways to deal with them. For problems that seem too big, try breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps. For issues that you still find yourself struggling with even after breaking them down, the best bet is to get help from a professional, friend, or supportive family member.