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.
Military servicewomen are exempt from physical fitness tests for a minimum of six months after giving birth. For many, though, this may not be enough time to get back to pre-pregnancy fitness levels. To date, studies have found that after pregnancy many active-duty women had slower run times, were not able to do as many push-ups, and had lower overall fitness scores compared to their pre-pregnancy fitness tests. One Air Force study found that sit-ups were the only component of the fitness test that didn’t change after pregnancy, despite increases in abdominal circumference. While exercise is generally recommended for women during pregnancy, there are many reasons why a lot of women stop, decrease, or are unable to do physical training during this time—having a baby is exhausting! Lack of sleep and sleep disturbances, quality and quantity of family support systems, breastfeeding needs, hormonal changes, and the physical stress of childbirth all impact recovery and performance. Getting back into an exercise routine takes time and patience. Discuss any possible restrictions with your doctor before starting. Begin slowly and at lower intensities until you feel stronger. Brisk walking, especially with your baby, is good exercise and good bonding time.
Everyone experiences anger—it’s normal. It’s also normal that the people you love will make you angry at some point. The trick is figuring out how to manage your anger—an essential skill for yourself and your relationships. Not dealing with anger just makes the situation worse. Afterdeployment.org has handouts on different aspects of Anger and Anger Management to get you started, including Anger Cues and Measuring Anger, Myths About Anger, how to manage anger with Time-Outs, and how to create an Anger Control Plan.
Hiking is a great form of exercise and a great way to get outdoors and enjoy some scenery—especially when getting ready for deployment to challenging terrain. If the weather outside is less than ideal, however, or the winter temperatures become too frigid, you may need to move your hiking indoors to a treadmill. Keep in mind that you might not be working as hard on a treadmill as you would be hiking outside at your regular pace. Hiking requires different, often heavier footwear and involves a more diverse, varied terrain, both of which require more energy than walking in sneakers on a treadmill. If you want the same benefits, your treadmill needs to be set to at least a 3% incline for any speed up to 3.1 miles per hour to be comparable to what you expend hiking outside. You can still train for that mountain trek in bad weather—you’ll just need to make some slight adjustments. Happy trails…or treadmilling!
Motion sickness can affect even the strongest Warfighters. Nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and sweating are some of the telltale signs of kinetosis, or motion sickness. The potential impact on individual and force readiness make it a concern in military medicine.
Motion sickness may affect individuals differently, but generally it follows a pattern. The earliest symptom typically is abdominal discomfort. If the motion continues, discomfort is usually followed by overly warm sensations, nausea, and wanting cool air.
Motion sickness can be alleviated to a degree by following these simple tips:
- Pick a seat where motion is less likely to be felt, such as an aisle seat on a plane, a central cabin on a ship, or a car toward the front of a train.
- Avoid sudden movements of the head, which can aggravate motion sickness.
- Avoid tasks that involve prolonged close-up eye movement or focus (such as reading a book). Focus instead on the road in front of you or on a distant object so that your senses can confirm that you’re on the move.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages before and during a trip, as alcohol can worsen motion sickness.
- If possible, expose yourself to the motion in gradually and in stages until you adapt to the movement.
Jerome Greer Chandler, a former combat medic, describes the severity of motion sickness among U.S. service members in an article to The American Legion Magazine [PDF]. For a detailed reading on motion sickness and its effect among military personnel, see the Textbooks of Military Medicine (volume 2).
Caring enough to really listen when someone needs it—also known as being someone’s “wingman”—can make a big difference in a Warfighter’s life. Being a wingman means showing care and concern for a buddy consistently—if you’re separated, for example, it means staying in touch and checking in regularly to make sure you’re both okay. When a buddy is thinking of hurting himself or herself, a great wingman skill to use is ACE—the acronym for “Ask, Care, Escort.”
Ask. If you are concerned, ask directly, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?”
Care. Next, as wingman, care for your buddy by staying with him or her, actively listening, staying calm, and removing anything he or she could use to hurt him/herself.
Escort. Finally, take your buddy to someone who is trained to help, such as a primary care provider, chaplain, or health professional, and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 911 for additional support.
Coconut oil has a sweet taste that lends distinct flavor to foods, and it contains several saturated fats—something the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest we eat less of. That is because eating saturated fats has been linked to atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”) and increased risk of heart disease.
Although coconut oil is highly saturated, it has different types of saturated fats. One of these—lauric acid—is regularly touted as having performance benefits. Lauric acid is referred to as a “medium chain fatty acid” (MCFA), and the body processes MCFAs differently than it does “long chain” fatty acids (LCFAs). Importantly, MCFAs are digested more rapidly than long chain fatty acids, so they are quickly absorbed and available as an energy source. Some research suggests MCFAs might help to optimize and maintain glycogen stores, thus extending endurance performance. Not only that, MCFAs are less likely than other fats to be stored as fat—a plus if you’re concerned about weight control. The performance claims surrounding MCFAs and coconut oil have not held up, and claims about their weight loss benefits need more research.
The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics joint guidelines for Nutrition and Athletic Performance indicate that MCFAs do not provide any performance benefit. To date, only two studies have shown improvements in performance. On the other hand, MCFAs have been shown to increase the body’s use of “fats” as fuels, reducing food intake, so such products may promote weight loss. There just isn’t enough information available to make any scientific conclusions.
If you choose to eat coconut oil, do so in moderation for its unique flavor and texture, because its health and performance benefits are still open for consideration.
It can be tough figuring out the truth about the health benefits of many natural products. One product that’s getting a lot of attention these days is green coffee beans. As a Warfighter looking for ways to optimize your performance or perhaps drop some weight quickly, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the marketing hype and claims, especially if it’s an appealing message. Make sure you get the facts.
Green coffee beans are the raw, unroasted seeds or “beans” of the Coffea plant. They contain a chemical called chlorogenic acid (CA) that supposedly offers some health benefits. Roasting reduces the amount of CA in coffee beans; as a result, green coffee beans contain more CA than the roasted beans you use for your morning coffee. Some research suggests that CA might prevent heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and help with weight loss. But it’s important to note that most of this research is preliminary, and there just isn’t enough evidence to say that CA will definitely help with any of these health conditions.
Although no serious side effects have been reported from green coffee beans in their natural form, some dietary supplement products containing green coffee beans have been found to contain undeclared drugs, insects, and mold. Of the 126 products containing green coffee beans ranked by the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 40 have been assigned a rating of “1” or “2,” which indicates there are serious concerns about their safety and effectiveness. None have a rating in NMCD’s green zone, which suggests that there are some concerns about them all. Note also that green coffee beans are not always the only active ingredient, so be sure to check the product label.
It’s also important to note that green coffee beans contain caffeine. Side effects of consuming too much caffeine are all too familiar—difficulty sleeping, rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness, nausea, and vomiting. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, or those who have been diagnosed with certain medical conditions (including anxiety, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, or osteoporosis) should check with their doctor before consuming green coffee beans. For more information on caffeine, read the OPSS FAQ on caffeine.
Approximately 300 million people around the world have sickle cell trait (SCT), including approximately 9% of African Americans. It is a hereditary condition in which red blood cells are affected, but most people who have it never experience symptoms. (It is important to note that SCT is not the same as sickle cell disease [SCD]. Sickle cell disease [or sickle cell anemia] can lead to other serious clinical risks and can cause severe symptoms. Those with the SCD usually have a shorter lifespan.)
Individuals with SCT usually can participate in normal physical activity and sports, as SCT doesn’t seem to adversely affect performance. In fact, some studies have found that those with SCT excel in short-distance power activities such as sprinting and jumping.
While SCT is largely a benign condition, there have been related complications such as exertional rhabdomyolysis and exercise-related sudden death. They have been found in non-SCT individuals as well, but they occur at higher rates in those with SCT and are a “hot topic” in military, and civilian communities; the National Collegiate Athletic Association even requires screening for all its Division I and II athletes.
It has been suggested that those with SCT may be more prone to sudden death from dehydration, heat illness, and high-intensity exercise; however, these factors and the role of prevention standards, medications, and the use of dietary supplements are still being studied. In both military and civilian SCT populations, collapsing during exercise is most commonly observed during times runs and sprints within the first few weeks of conditioning. SCT Recruits who have difficulty passing the Physical Readiness Test are also at higher risk for collapse. Military leaders should be aware of safe training guidelines and take universal precautions. Effective prevention tactics include heat acclimatization, hydration, gradual physical conditioning, and addressing progressively worse symptoms early on.
All newborns in the United States are screened for both SCT and SCD as part of a public health imperative. Each military branch has its own policies regarding SCT. The Army does not screen for SCT but promotes universal precautions for all soldiers, whereas the Air Force, Navy, and Marines all screen for SCT after accession. Further testing and counseling may be done for those who are positive for SCT. If you are unsure about SCT and exercise, consult with your physician, especially if you are starting a new exercise routine.
If you’re looking to get healthier, stronger, more energetic, or less injury-prone, setting goals can help you achieve this type of optimal performance. Use the American Psychological Association’s five tips for “Making your New Year's resolutions stick“ regardless of the time of the year.
- 1. One at a time. Doing everything at once can lead to burnout. Tackle one issue at a time by breaking your goals into pieces to build on.
- 2. Start small. Pace yourself to go the distance. You may be eager to get started on your performance goals, but start with manageable goals and build up to the more challenging ones.
- 3. Share. Talk about your goals and progress with family and friends, as they can be your biggest supporters. It may also help them understand what you’re trying to accomplish and might interest them enough to join you.
- 4. Ask your buddies. Getting help is a sign of strength. It can help reduce the stress of trying to achieve your goals. If you know you are struggling with one aspect of your goal, the best thing to do is seek out advice and support. Use resources such as HPRC's Mind Tactics to get accurate information that can help you progress towards your goals.
- 5. Don’t strive for perfection. Perfection, if not impossible, is an ever-moving target. Don’t waste your time chasing it. Performance optimization is about being at your best, not achieving perfection. How you recover from mistakes matters—don’t abandon your goals. Learn from your mistakes instead and get back to your goals.
For more information on how to become the best that you can be, check out the HPRC’s Performance Strategies: Ten Rules of Engagement for performance enhancement.
The USDA’s SuperTracker is an interactive, online tool that will help you set personal fitness goals as well as log and track your exercise habits and progress. Create a personal profile to manage your weight, record your fitness activities, and keep a food diary. SuperTracker offers tips, support, and detailed feedback to keep you on a healthy path in 2013 and beyond. Start the New Year off on the right foot—and then the left foot, and then the right foot again!