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.
It seems that just about everyone is a runner these days, and it’s an essential part of being a Warfighter. Since 1990, the number of road race finishers in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. Participation in the largest road races has increased 77% in 14 years! More runners means more who need to learn about running injuries. Check how injury savvy you are with the infographic below, courtesy of the Sports Performance and Rehabilitation Department of the Hospital for Special Surgery, educational partners for the New York City Marathon.
In stressful situations, people often say, “Take a deep breath!” But perhaps they should be saying, “Take a long exhale!”
When your breathing is rhythmic, and your exhales are longer than your inhales, your heart rate will tend to follow: As you inhale, your heart rate increases, and as you exhale, your heart rate slows down. This more variable heart rate is associated with fewer physical and psychological problems over the long run, and lower stress and better situational awareness during the short-run. Better situational awareness means being aware of your changing environment, while also tuning into whatever is most important right here and right now. When you hold your breath or take short, shallow breaths, your heart rate varies less—which is a sign of stress. When you’re under stress, your attention can get stuck on a perceived threat. Instead, you need to allow your attention to shift from a broad focus (such as a landscape), to a narrow focus (such as the origin of a weapon firing), and back to a broad focus (such as the whole landscape, where there may be additional threats). Paced breathing can help you do this.
Optimal breathing rates vary slightly from person to person, but about six breaths per minute (with four-second inhales and six-second exhales) tends to be in the ballpark for most people to experience some benefits.
Sex experts say that "good sex"—a key ingredient in most intimate relationships—adds only about 15–20% to an already good relationship. On the other hand, "bad sex" (such as one or both partners not being fulfilled) can take away 75% from relationship happiness. That is, when sex is going well, it helps to improve your relationship a little bit, but when it isn't, it can be destructive to your relationship and overall quality of life. Keep in mind there’s no common definition of “good” or “bad” sex. These definitions rely on each person’s perception of sex and a fulfilling sexual relationship, plus how well both partners’ perceptions match.
Not only can sex affect satisfaction in relationships, it can also improve your health! Warm affection, such as hugging and kissing, can improve happiness and well-being, as well as reduce stress. Sex is also associated with greater overall health and satisfaction. As we pointed out in a previous article, sex releases a hormone that helps you feel closer to the other person and makes you feel good.
Being sexually active, having a good-quality sex life, and a healthy interest in sex are related to improved health through middle age and beyond. In fact, research has found that regular sexual activity among older individuals is more normal than previously thought. However, it isn’t clear whether healthier people have more-active sex lives or whether active sex lives improve health. At this point, all we know is that they are positively related to each other.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and disability in the United States. The positive effects of quitting tobacco are numerous: Reduce your risk of lung and other cancers, improve wound healing, decrease risk of infection, and save money. However, a major concern among those who consider quitting tobacco is weight gain. Most people who quit tobacco gain less than 10 lbs, but others gain more than 20 lbs. Many factors contribute to this weight gain, including eating more due to improved sense of smell and taste, boredom, the need to do something with your hands, and metabolic changes that happen after nicotine leaves your body.
Being prepared is essential to preventing weight gain when you quit tobacco. Know your habits: If your hands will be bored without a cigarette, find something else besides food to occupy them. Play with stress balls, silly putty, crosswords, and puzzles to keep your hands busy. Dropping a bad habit such as smoking is also a great time to pick up something new to do with your hands: Knitting, playing an instrument, gardening, and writing are all healthy ways to exercise your hands and your mind.
If you’re craving snacks, reach for fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and water, which help fill you up without a lot of calories. You may be confusing hunger with thirst; try a glass of water to see if that helps your cravings. Bored with plain water? Try calorie-free sparkling or seltzer water, or add lemon or lime slices, mint, berries, or cucumber to your water for a flavorful and refreshing drink.
And if you do find yourself eating more at or between meals, balance it out with exercise. Replace your usual smoking break with a walk outside or even around the office. Increase your usual gym routine; you may find exercise is easier after you quit tobacco.
For help quitting tobacco, or if you find yourself gaining weight no matter what you do, speak with your healthcare provider. And visit U Can Quit 2 and Tobacco-Free Living for additional information and resources. November is the Military Health System’s Tobacco Cessation month, so it’s a great time to make your own plan to quit tobacco.
How do I know if my dietary supplement product contains a stimulant? Are they a potential problem for me? What are peptide hormones and are they safe? Is DMBA the same thing as DMAA? We’ve received many questions on these topics and offer some answers.
Read the newly posted OPSS FAQs for information about:
- How to identify a stimulant
- Stimulants and potential dangers
- Peptide hormones and whether they are safe
- DMBA and why products with it were pulled from stores on bases
And while you’re there, check out the other FAQs in OPSS, which can help answer questions you may have about the safe use of dietary supplements.
Sweating is a normal, healthy response to exercise or to a hot environment—it’s our body’s way of regulating temperature. When sweat evaporates, it takes your body heat with it, which cools you down. But did you know that how soon you start sweating also indicates how fit you are? Fitter folks start sweating sooner, and sweat more, than the folks who are not as fit. It seems a conditioned body recognizes the change in environment (or circumstances) sooner responds more quickly than an unconditioned (less fit) one. While sweat isn’t generally a good indicator of how hard you’re working out, or the intensity of exercise, it may be a sign of how conditioned you are.
Note that, while men generally sweat more than women do, it doesn’t mean that men are more fit than women. Men and women even have the same number of sweat glands, but men’s sweat glands produce more sweat per gland.
So next time you find yourself changing out of a sweat-drenched shirt, be proud! You trained hard for that sweat!
Laughing can be more than just fun in the moment. It also can also have positive mental, physical, and social benefits. The research into the effects of positive mood, or happiness, includes how laughter and humor affect our well-being. The results show that positive emotions aren’t just superficial feelings. Brain imaging, for example, shows that reward areas in the brain “light up” during positive emotional experiences such as laughter.
A positive mood also can impact your physical health, specifically your heart. It’s been established that long-term negative emotions can damage your physical health. Positive moods, on the other hand, can protect your cardiovascular system. One 10-year study found that those who express more positive emotions (either in words or in actions such as smiling or laughing) have a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Other studies have found that positive emotions, including optimism and a sense of humor, can enhance your immunity and might even help you live longer.
But these positive benefits aren’t just limited to your body. Humor and positive emotions can strengthen relationships, foster communication, and reduce feelings of isolation. However, the key to these social effects is to use humor appropriately. For example, laughing in the middle of a funeral ceremony may not be appropriate, but laughing at a funny movie is.
Share a joke or a smile with someone today.
Being mindful means simply being extra aware, in a nonjudgmental way and in the present moment, of your physical and mental experiences, even during ordinary, everyday tasks. Mindfulness isn’t just a technique you can do or a skill you can learn. It can also refer to a way of being. In other words, some people work on becoming more mindful and others just are mindful.
Mind-body skills—including mindfulness—reduce stress and improve heart health. And mindfulness in particular (both the skills and the way of being) has become a hot topic. Much of mindfulness research has focused on medical problems, but scientists are just beginning to really understand its role in preventing heart disease.
One recent study looked at people who already tend to be mindful, so it’s hard to say that mindfulness causes the good things associated with it, but somehow they seem to be related. However, according to another study, when cardiac patients were trained to be more mindful, they made smarter decisions about nutrition and exercise.
People who already tend to be very mindful, also tend to:
- Not smoke
- Have less body fat
- Have less glucose (sugar) in their blood
- Exercise more frequently
There are a couple factors that impact how mindful you can be in the first place: 1) how in control you feel and 2) whether or not you feel depressed. When you feel in control of your life, you’re able to monitor your own behaviors and change what you’re doing. When you’re feeling down, you might run on “autopilot,” without tuning in to your body’s sensations or your thoughts.
Over time, research will tell us more about how mindfulness affects healthy behaviors and how healthy behaviors impacts mindfulness. In the meantime, there appear to be many benefits associated with training mindfulness if you don’t tend to be mindful already.
Coffee, energy drinks, energy shots, soda—we’re surrounded by these products, and many are marketed specifically to teens. Their advertisements make caffeine seem a harmless and effective boost to help teens meet the demands of school and after-school activities. Three of four U.S. children and young adults now consume some form of caffeine every day.
Teens shouldn’t consume more than 100mg of caffeine (roughly the amount in an average small cup of coffee) per day. That’s enough caffeine to give you energy and help you stay alert. But too much caffeine can be a serious problem. Signs that you’ve had too much caffeine can be jitters, nervousness, increased heart rate, and an upset stomach. For more about the symptoms of too much caffeine, read FDA’s article.
Many drinks and foods that contain caffeine don’t clearly say so on the label. Energy drinks, for example, can contain lots of different forms of caffeine, such as guarana, green tea extract, and yerba mate. Although you might see these listed on the label, you still might not see the total amount of caffeine listed. Energy drinks don’t have to report how much caffeine is in them. So think twice about how many of them you drink, and learn more from HPRC’s article about energy drinks.
And for athletes: Don’t use energy drinks to replace sports drinks for extra energy. The same goes for other beverages with caffeine: sodas, coffee, and tea. Sports drinks are for hydrating and replacing electrolytes and other nutrients lost while exercising. Water is best in most cases!
Just because something contains caffeine doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate it. Be aware of all the different sources of caffeine and try not to overdo it. And be sure to watch HPRC’s “Caffeine & Teens” video for more from a teenager’s perspective.
Based on a blog by HPRC intern Diana Smith. Diana is a military teen and high-school sophomore who is interested in science and enjoys drawing in her downtime.
Attention military family support groups! Want resources to help support the work you do for military families? Check out HPRC’s new section in the “Family and Relationships” domain called “Relationship Toolkit.” We listened to requests from family support groups and programs like yours and created a section that houses many of our family-oriented HPRC resources in one place. They’re grouped according to topics such as building and maintaining strong relationships, exercising and eating healthfully as a family, recharging, and managing emotions. So check out the new section. And if you don’t see what you’re looking for, let us know via our “Ask the Expert” button.