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 you a professional who would like to know more about the evidence behind a program that you are thinking about using with military families? Or are you a military family member currently participating in a program you want to find out more about? Check out Pennsylvania State University’s Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness. HPRC’s Answer describes this program and the services it provides.
If you’ve injured a muscle or tendon during your PT training and wondered if that elastic tape that comes in bright colors could help you, read on. Elastic therapeutic tape is significantly different from regular elastic bandages, and it became popular during the 2008 Beijing Olympics when athletes such as professional beach volleyball player Kerri Walsh used it. Both are used to treat athletic injuries such as strains and sprains, but they produce their benefits in different ways. Elastic therapeutic tape is made of a thin material with thickness and elasticity similar to that of human skin. When taped on skin it supports injured muscles. However, it has also been reported that it helps relieve pain by lifting the skin away from the tissue beneath and enhancing blood and lymph flow to the injured area. Regular elastic bandages such as ACE bandages also provide support and reduce pain when wrapped around an injury, but unlike elastic therapeutic tape, they provide localized pressure to reduce swelling. In addition, they don’t stick to skin and usually restrict range of motion. Users report that elastic therapeutic tape works, but scientific evidence is contradictory. There just isn’t enough evidence to support the use of elastic therapeutic taping over other types of tape/bandage, and there is no scientific explanation for why it should work. So just be aware and use this tape at your discretion.
Test dummies are commonly used in the military for training and first aid exercises. Recently, the Pentagon has been working on finding a “human surrogate” for use in testing an array of non-lethal weapons. Modern technology equips these dummies with human-like internal and external organs as well as sensors capable of gathering information about how a person might react to such weapons. Current weapons that use stimuli such as heat, pain, and noise would be tested on these dummies rather than on live human subjects, with the goal of eliminating permanent damage while optimizing effectiveness. Other information collected would help scientists continue to build better models. Non-lethal weapons are often used for crowd-control purposes, so this technology would also benefit law enforcement, which commonly uses such systems.
Cheeba Chews are marketed as chocolate taffy, but they actually contain an illegal substance. Read the Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS) FAQ to find out more about these products and whether they are legal for members of the military community to consume. Be sure to check back often as we add answers to other questions and topics in the OPSS section of HPRC’s website.
Individuals involved in disasters and terrorist attacks often experience psychological trauma that needs both immediate and ongoing attention. In addition to getting medical first-aid to individuals, responders can also help administer psychological first aid (PFA). A few features from the VA’s Psychological First Aid: Field Operations Guide are:
- Ensure safety first. Physical needs (medical attention, food, and shelter) take priority. Before you begin PFA, assess whether these other needs have been taken care of. Remember to communicate clearly and be compassionate and polite as you come into contact with survivors.
- Stay calm and spread calm. Be patient and pay attention to survivors, who are often in emotional distress, as they convey their story. If they express confusion, reassure them that their behavior is a natural response to the circumstances and offer healthy ways to cope with it. And make sure that your own emotional and physical reactions are not making the situation worse.
- Connect with others. Help survivors connect with friends, family members, and other people who can support them. Relationships are invaluable to survivors during traumatic events.
- Encourage hope. Help calm fears or worries about the future by reminding survivors that help is on the way and will continue to be available in the future as they recover.
For more information, see the “dos” and “don’ts” in this fact sheet from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. Also, download the free PFA mobile app, which supplements the PFA Field Operations Guide to help you administer psychological first aid in the field. Online training and videos are also available; see links on the web page linked above. For more information on healthy ways to cope, check out HPRC’s Mind Tactics domain.
Good oral health means more than just brushing your teeth. Flossing and brushing your teeth at the gumline, contact areas, tongue, and any trouble areas your dentist or hygienist has pointed out—plus brushing after sugary snacks or beverages—are all important to good oral health. According to the Army Public Health Command, poor oral health can negatively impact training, mobilization, and operations. Visit the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Mouth Healthy website for more oral health information, tips, and news for adults and children.
If you want improve your PFT and/or CFT score then try performing a dynamic warm up before the test. While there is still much debate around a pre-exercise warm-up, a recent review of the literature specific to military testing found that dynamic warm-up and dynamic stretching might improve your fitness test performance. Overall, dynamic warm-ups appear to improve pull-ups, push-ups, power, flexibility, and aerobic performance. In addition, prior to the dynamic warm-up, an aerobic warm-up such as about five to 10 minutes of light jogging, swimming, or cycling sees to have an overall beneficial effect on cardiovascular assessments such as sprinting and running. On the other hand, static stretching (the kind you stretch and hold) appears to have a negative effect on exercise performance in trained populations. If range of motion is needed, then static stretching might be the most beneficial type of warm-up. Most services no longer test for the sit-and-reach, but there are some commands that continue with this testing modality. While nothing will help you more than properly training for your fitness assessments, doing the little things on testing day may help you achieve peak performance.
The purpose of the 2011 Department of Defense Health Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel (HRB) is to assess the health practices of active-duty service members. Substance abuse, mental and physical health, and lifestyle choices are important matters, especially when you need to be at your best for the demands of military life. Certain areas of this study directly affect human performance, and results (as reported in the Executive Summary) show that health behaviors vary between services.
Physical Activity/Body composition
Here are some figures from the Physical Activity/Body Composition portion:
- Overall, service members have lower rates of obesity (as defined by BMI) compared to the general public.
- More than one-third of active-duty service members age 20 and older were considered to be at a healthy weight, which exceeds the Healthy People goal as well as civilian population estimates.
- 75% of active-duty members practiced moderate to vigorous physical activity in the 30 days prior to the survey, with Army and Navy personnel having the highest rates.
- Almost half of service members do strength training three or more days a week.
Physical health and fitness are key components to optimal fitness. While these numbers are encouraging, there is no doubt that a larger portion of the military should be at a healthy weight and fit enough to fight. Make fitness and weight management your priority for performance.
- Only 40% of all active-duty personnel surveyed get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
Sleep is an important factor in recovery. Poor sleep habits can take a physical and mental toll on your health, your relationships, and your performance.
Tobacco and alcohol
One area where the military could improve is in the use of tobacco products and alcohol:
- Almost one-quarter of service members reported smoking a cigarette in the 30 days prior to taking the survey, which is higher than the civilian population and the Healthy People objective.
- Smokeless tobacco use is also prevalent in the military with 12.8% of all service members using smokeless tobacco in the month leading up to the survey.
- Rates of binge drinking were higher in the military than in the civilian population and more prevalent in the Marine Corps than in any other branch.
Tobacco in any form is detrimental to your health. If you’re thinking about quitting smoking or would like to talk to someone about your alcohol use, there are lots of resources and professionals that can help you achieve your goal.
Stress and mental health
After more than a decade of ongoing war, troops have—and will continue to experience—significant mental stress as a result of their service. In general, 5-20% of service members reported high rates of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and/or other mental health concerns.
- The most common military-related sources of stress were being away from family and friends and changes in workload but included financial problems and family members’ health problems.
- Women reported experiencing personal sources of stress more often than men did.
- Those who drank heavily were more likely to report problems with money and relationships.
Drinking, smoking, overeating, and even attempted suicide are all negative coping factors when dealing with stress. The survey found that the most effective methods of coping were planning to solve problems and talking with friends or family members. Find out how to use productive and effective methods for coping with stress and mental health.
Nutrition and dietary supplements
Being fueled to fight is an important component for anyone in the military. Proper nutrition requires consuming healthy—and avoiding bad and potentially harmful—foods and beverages.
- According to the survey, active-duty personnel eat too many unhealthy foods such as snacks, sweets, and sugary drinks and not enough of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables.
- More than one-third of personnel reported daily dietary supplement use.
What you decide to put in your body now may affect your performance and your career later. For more information on nutrition for combat effectiveness, read Chapter 15 of the Warfighter Nutrition Guide. And make sure you know what you’re putting into your body. Dietary supplements are not subject to pre-market approval by the FDA, and there are many ingredients that may do more harm than help. You can learn more about dietary supplements at Operation Supplement Safety. And for more information about the Health Related Behavior Survey, visit TRICARE’s webpage.
Although a limited amount of new-generation body armor specifically designed for women is already in theater, field tests will take place in July and August on 600 sets of this armor for female soldiers. These tests are part of the Army’s Rapid Fielding Initiative in which they roll out cutting-edge equipment for soldiers. This important development is just one change that is needed if women are to enter additional military occupational specialties, including front-line roles in ground combat. (The ban on women in combat was lifted in January of 2013.)
A noted feature of the new body armor is the decrease in weight from 31 to 25 pounds, which can reduce pressure on muscles and bones, possibly reducing musculoskeletal injuries. In addition, because there’s less friction and chaffing, the body armor is more comfortable. Even more important, though, the new armor addresses complaints from women that poor-fitting body armor restricts movement needed to carry out operations such as raising and firing a rifle.
You may have heard how deep breathing can help you relax and focus, but have you tried it yet? It’s a great strategy for helping your mind and body relax, but maybe you don’t know how to do it. You can learn how—and keep reminders handy—with this downloadable card that HPRC created recently for the Strong B.A.N.D.S. campaign. Try it out.