Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Human Performance Resource Center. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Human Performance Resource Center. To learn more, visit https://www.hprc-online.org/.
Have you ever felt tired, sluggish, or foggy after eating a big meal? Have you seen how kids (and kids at heart) get hyper or seem like they’re not thinking straight after a candy binge? Then you probably know that what you eat affects how you feel.
In a state of optimal nutritional fitness, what you eat supports healing and your immune system, helps prevent injury, improves energy levels, and allows you to achieve optimal emotional, cognitive, and physical performance. When you eat right, you’re likely to feel more energized, less fatigued, and have better focus, judgment, accuracy, and reaction time. The opposite is true when you fuel your body improperly. Whether you’re at home or deployed, follow these tips to help you to stay alert, focused, and performing at your best.
Mental Performance Nutrition Tips
To achieve nutritional fitness, focus on a balanced diet rich in whole foods, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats. Read more on the recommended diet for Military Service Members.
- Boost your intake of magnesium. Magnesium is important to regulate muscle and nerve functions, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. It also helps make protein, bone, and DNA. Nearly half of all Americans over age one are deficient in magnesium, and the deficiency is even greater for some gender and age groups. Foods high in magnesium include legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables (such as spinach), fortified breakfast cereals, milk, and yogurt.
- Eat plenty of foods high in B vitamins. These nutrients support metabolism, brain development, blood and nerve cell health, DNA production, and the development of serotonin, which impacts mood, memory, and emotions. Foods high in B6 include poultry, fish, organ meats, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, and noncitrus fruits. Foods high in B12 include beef, liver, clams, fish, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy, and fortified breakfast cereals. Foods high in folate include asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach, oranges, nuts, beans, peas, and grains. Food is the best source of most vitamins, but supplements can help if you’re unable to eat some of these foods.
“We don’t eat nutrients, we eat food.”
Paul Jacques and Katherine Tucker,
Tufts Human Performance Research Center on Aging
- Fuel your body consistently. Eat meals regularly to maintain blood glucose (sugar) and muscle glycogen (stored energy) levels throughout the day. Balance meals and snacks with whole grains, lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats to help keep your blood sugar steady. Avoid skipping meals, too much sugar, and imbalanced meals that are mainly refined flours (carbohydrates). Dips and spikes in your blood sugar can make you feel tired, shaky, or less focused. If you skip meals or don’t eat enough, your blood sugar can drop, resulting in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and a decline in performance. Symptoms of low blood sugar include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, weakness, fatigue, sweating, confusion, and fainting. You don’t actually need to have full-blown hypoglycemia to begin feeling these effects.
- Rethink your meal choices on the night shift. At night, your body’s metabolic processes slow down. Eating at night has been shown to be bad for your health, including an increased incidence of obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and infections. But for night-shift workers, it can mean the difference between staying alert—or not—on the job. The right type and amount of foods and beverages can help keep up your blood sugar to stay alert.
- Get a caffeine boost, but not too much. Caffeine improves alertness, vigilance, attention, and reaction time when taken in small to moderate amounts. Caffeine can also help mental performance in sleep-deprived situations. But dose and timing matter; refer to Operation Supplement Safety for more information.
- Drink enough water. Water is the most abundant component of the human body—around 50–70% of your weight—so your body needs fluids regularly to function properly. Performance can start to decline once you’ve lost as little as 2% of your body weight. Even mild to moderate dehydration can reduce alertness and cause fatigue, tension, and difficulty concentrating. Carry a water bottle with you and refill it throughout the day. Aim to drink half your body weight in water each day to stay hydrated (e.g. 100 oz if you weigh 200 lbs). And don’t rely on thirst as a good indicator of your fluid needs. By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already a little dehydrated.
Mental performance is just as important as physical performance. Fortunately, proper nutrition can help with both.
Posted in Physical Fitness, Self-Care
Tagged eating habits, emotional health, Health, healthy eating, healthy lifestyles, mental health, National Nutrition Month, Navy Nutrition Month, Navy Physical Readiness, Nutrition, physical fitness, physical health
As Sailors, sleep can seem like a luxury or low priority relative to mission demands, and surviving off of little to no sleep is often worn like a badge of honor. However, the amount of sleep the body needs doesn’t vary by individual—seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is ideal for all Sailors, according to Naval Postgraduate School’s Crew Endurance website.
The 2011 DoD Health Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Personnel found that less than 50 percent of active duty service members get at least seven hours of sleep per night, increasing risk for a myriad of psychological health issues such as depression, anxiety and suicide risk.
A good night’s sleep is so vital that even slight deprivation can negatively affect performance, memory, mood and judgment, as well as one’s perception of and response to stress. When you’re sleepy, you may feel irritable, lack motivation, or lose patience more quickly, impacting everything from decision-making and impulsivity, to family relationships and operational readiness.
Crew Endurance, developed by Naval Postgraduate School with collaboration from Navy’s Operational Stress Control Program, offers practical tips, research and operational tools for promoting adequate rest. To build your endurance:
- Aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, preferably at the same time each day. While uninterrupted sleep is ideal, compensating for any sleep deficit with a nap has proven benefits. A twenty-minute nap can help mitigate the effects of extended periods without rest on the mind and body, giving you a power boost. Avoid trying to plow through your day without adequate rest. Going 22 hours without sleep has the same effect on performance as being legally drunk!
- Avoid large meals and vigorous exercise close to bedtime. Consuming a nutritious and balanced diet is essential for fueling the mind and body, however, eating large meals before bedtime can lead to sleep disturbances. Aim to make your last meal of the day your smallest, and avoid alcohol in the last few hours before bedtime. Similarly, while exercising regularly can lead to stable energy throughout the day, avoid exercising within two to three hours before going to bed. For fitness and nutrition tips, check out Navy Physical Readiness.
- Use caffeine strategically. Coffee and other caffeinated beverages are best suited for the first part of your shift to promote alertness. However, caffeine, including soft drinks, should be avoided before bedtime. Instead, hydrate with nature’s best: water.
Other tips for promoting optimal rest include blocking light and limiting noise in your sleep environment by using eye masks and ear plugs. It’s also preferable to use bright light in the workspace to aid the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
There are several ways to promote healthy sleep and work patterns at the command level as well, such as the Circadian-Based Watch Schedule, which has been tried by more than a dozen ships around the fleet. A circadian-based watchbill is any schedule which is built around a 24-hour day, with stable sleep periods each day vice those built upon 15, 18 or 20 hour days. In combination with adjusting meal hours, allowing adequate time for physical training and holding most meetings mid-day, Circadian-Based Watch Schedules can promote crew alertness, optimize readiness and enhance command climate.
To learn more about sleep, test your fatigue level or find out how your command can implement a Circadian-based Watch Schedule, visit Crew Endurance at my.nps.edu/web/crewendurance/index.
Now that the gifts have been opened, loved ones have left, holiday leave is ending and leftovers are gone, you may find that the happy is starting to fade with the imminent passing of the holidays. While you might be looking forward to returning to routine, the “come-down” from the fast pace and merriment of the season may leave you feeling a little blue. Here are a few strategies to help you start off the New Year with a positive outlook and shake off the humbugs for good.
Take a Moment to Unplug and Recharge. Though we think of the holidays as a break from work, that’s not always the case. Whether you were forward-deployed, working your usual hours or were hurriedly preparing for family gatherings and last minute shopping, you may have found yourself short on rest. As the New Year begins, make a commitment to incorporate more downtime into your routine and make sleep a priority, aiming for at least seven hours per day. To help you reach this goal, take advantage of any opportunity for brief naps during the day. And, while staying connected with loved ones is important, consider “unplugging” 15-30 minutes before bedtime to create an optimal sleep environment. Check out this post for more tips to help recharge your resilience with a good night’s sleep.
Get Moving! Physical activity helps increase the production of endorphins (our brain’s feel-good neuro-transmitters) helping to counter effects of stress while keeping you physically and emotionally fit. According to the Navy Physical Readiness Program, Sailors should participate in moderate physical activity for at least two hours and 30 minutes per week, and should strength train all major muscle groups at least twice per week. If you’re short on time or motivation, get going with this do-anywhere-workout to help you re-establish your exercise regimen. Short on space? There’s a workout for that, too!
Regain a Sense of Control. Does a lack of green in the bank have you a little blue? Though you may have given it your strongest effort this season, realities of overspending can take anyone by surprise when the bills start to roll in. Knowing where you stand can help you regain a sense of Controllability and peace of mind. Start by collecting your receipts and matching them against expenses to separate holiday transactions from regular household expenses. This will also help to ensure that each expense on your credit card statement is valid (for identity theft information, click here). Now that you have a better idea of what you may owe beyond what you originally budgeted for, you can create a feasible plan to eliminate holiday debt or reduce spending to increase cash on hand. In addition to seeking advice at your local Fleet and Family Support Center, check out www.militarysaves.org, and www.powerpay.org to help you determine the best way ahead.
Connect with Gratitude to Combat Loneliness. Though there are holidays that are oriented toward conveying gratitude and love, you can connect with these feelings at any time of year to reap their benefits. If you find yourself feeling lonely, write a note to a loved one, shipmate or friend describing how he or she makes a difference in your life. Expressing thanks can strengthen connections with others and benefit both parties. Volunteering for a cause that holds personal Meaning is another way to find satisfaction, connection and a sense of purpose.
Try incorporating these small acts into your daily life to help you perk up post-holidays, or choose one to practice throughout the New Year. For more strategies to help you keep an even keel, check out Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s updated Relax Relax Toolkit.
Posted in 1 Small ACT, Families, Financial Fitness, Holidays, Physical Fitness, Resilience, Sleep
Tagged 1 Small ACT, Controllability, family, Finances, financial fitness, financial planning, FITmasTime, holiday blues, holiday spending, holiday tips, holidays, Meaning, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, Navy Physical Readiness, New Years, physical fitness, resilience, sleep
Stress is associated with a variety of chronic health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and more. It can come from many different sources in our everyday lives, including workload, transition periods, and relationship challenges, and too much of it can have an impact on our minds and bodies. You may notice that after a particularly challenging couple of days, your muscles are tight or you have a hard time relaxing. After an extended period of stress your waistline may start to look a bit different as well, due to increases in cortisol (a hormone released by the body as part of its “fight or flight” response). Because cortisol is our body’s response to “fight mode,” where it expects that we’ll be expending calories as if we were physically combatting our stress, hunger sets in…and so do the pounds. What’s one prescription to get our brains and bodies back in optimal shape for the long haul? Exercise.
Being active can help reduce the negative effects of stress while encouraging long-term physical and mental health. According to the Navy Physical Readiness Program Instruction, OPNAVINST 6100.1J, Sailors should participate in moderate physical activity for at least two hours and 30 minutes per week, and should strength train all major muscle groups at least twice per week. However, when balancing stressful and busy schedules, many individuals tend to create excuses for not exercising—which become habits. To help you get in top shape, here are three tips to counter common barriers to adopting and maintaining a regular physical fitness regime:
- Not enough time? Break it up! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, time is the number one cited reason for not exercising regularly. While continuous physical activity—i.e. 50 minutes of cardio three times per week—is ideal, that may sound overwhelming when there already doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. To help you build up to that goal, make time for your exercise by breaking it up into shorter bursts. Go for a 20 minute run around your building or around the deck at lunch, or do a few sets of lunges each hour in your workspace to get started. Even by taking the stairs throughout the day you’re taking steps toward a healthier way of life.
- Build momentum for motivation. You may have wanted to get fit for a while, but don’t know where to start. Try “unplugging,” giving yourself 15 minutes each day to get away from your smart phone, computer, tablet or TV screen. Use that screen-free time to stretch or perform simple body weight exercises around the house or your living quarters. For added motivation and accountability, invite a friend to exercise with you and develop a regular routine that is convenient for you both.
- Find something you enjoy doing. If fitness doesn’t seem accessible to you—whether it’s a matter of finding a gym or knowing how to perform certain activities—switch up your strategy. Try a group activity like yoga, which can burn up to 500 calories per hour and help you refocus your thoughts (two for one!). Your local installation may offer yoga and other group fitness classes, easing your apprehension about going to an unfamiliar (or expensive) fitness center. You can get a list of local offerings by visiting navy.mil. And remember, the gym isn’t the only place to exercise! You’ll be surprised by how many common items there are in your work space to help you expand or get the most out of your workouts.
Simple, everyday adjustments to get more active can yield big returns. Exercise increases production of the brain’s feel-good neuro-transmitters called endorphins, which can play a vital role in navigating stress. Routine physical activity can also lessen your chance of depression and may improve your sleep habits. Remember, May is both Physical Fitness Month and Mental Health Month—and now is the perfect time to stop the excuses and start moving to benefit your health from the inside out!
For additional physical fitness resources, visit Navy Physical Readiness, Human Performance Resource Center (HPRC), and Operation Live Well.