Tag Archives: Nutrition

Three Easy Tips for Improving Your Heart Health

Healthy lifestyle concept, clean food good health dietary in heart dish with sporty gym aerobic body exercise workout training class equipment, weight scale and sports shoes in fitness center

While Valentine’s Day gets the majority of the heart-related attention in February, there’s another reason to celebrate – February marks American Heart Month, an observance focused on raising awareness about maintaining a healthy heart through proactive prevention. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. Even if you are young and healthy, it is important to begin tracking and monitoring your heart’s health. Healthy habits formed in early adulthood can have long-lasting positive impacts on your well-being. Although some individuals may face certain risk factors for this disease outside of their control, the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center outlines how certain medical conditions associated with heart health are “controllable, and entirely preventable in some cases with lifestyle changes.”

Here are a few ideas for improving your heart health:

Understand your potential risks. Consider making an appointment with your primary care physician at least once a year to exclusively discuss and evaluate your heart health.  Be open about your family history, discuss your current medications and routinely monitor your cholesterol. You can also use self-service blood pressure kiosks located at several pharmacies and drug stores to check-in on your levels. The American Heart Association’s My Life Check® self-assessment tool can provide insight in to your personal risk factors.

Get your heart pumping. While any form of routine exercise is likely to bolster your holistic health, this blog from Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends focusing on three types of exercise for your heart: aerobic, resistance training and flexibility-centric movements. Boosting your endurance and strength doesn’t always have to happen at a gym, and you can always consult your Command Fitness Leader for new ideas on how to stay active. No matter your preferred activity, reducing your stress levels through exercise can also improve your heart health.

Practice healthy eating. Ingredients found in processed food may lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even heart disease. Building balanced meals and incorporating healthy options as much as possible is important to maintaining your health. NHLBI’s comprehensive set of heart healthy eating resources offers recipe ideas and tailored eating plans. From avocado and shrimp spring rolls to banana oat cookies, this list of aggregated recipes by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Million Hearts® 2022 initiative outlines creative ideas for eating mindfully.

Improving your overall health doesn’t just start and end with making sure your heart is strong. Push forward with your other 2020 resolutions and your heart, as well as the rest of your body and mind, will thank you.

Boost your mental performance with better nutrition

Smoothie bowl with fresh blackberries, blueberries, banana, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia  seeds and coconut

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.

Bottom Line

Mental performance is just as important as physical performance. Fortunately, proper nutrition can help with both.

Is it SAD or the Winter Blues?

Sad smiley emoticon face drawn on snow covered glass

If you find yourself feeling down during the coldest months of the year, you’re not alone. Whether on a ship or working shore duty, it can be challenging for Sailors to get outside and reap the benefits of natural sunlight, especially in winter.

Many people face the “winter blues” – a generally mild sadness that’s usually linked to something specific, like stressful holidays or reminders of absent friends or loved ones. The winter blues are unpleasant but usually short-term in duration. More severe sadness that sticks around longer may indicate that you are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and not just the winter blues.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, about five percent of Americans suffer from SAD, a form of depression that can last 40 percent of the year and is usually most severe in January and February in the U.S. SAD is a clinical disorder that must be diagnosed by a professional.

SAD, like other forms of depression, can be debilitating, with symptoms that may affect every aspect of daily life. Some common symptoms include fatigue, mood swings and changes in appetite. The effects of SAD are typically seen in the winter months when there is less sunlight (though this may vary with geographic location) and symptoms usually improve with the arrival of spring. Whether it’s SAD or the more-common winter blues, there are steps you can take to help yourself and your shipmates.

Why Winter?

We all have an internal biological or circadian clock. This 24-hour “master clock” uses cues in your surroundings to help keep you awake and to help you sleep. Our circadian clocks are highly sensitive to changes in light and dark. When days are shorter and nights are longer, the body’s internal rhythm can be altered, and lead to changes in two specific chemicals, melatonin and serotonin.

At night, a gland in the brain produces and releases melatonin, a chemical that helps you sleep. Changes in season and sunlight can disrupt the normal levels of melatonin, contributing to disrupted sleep patterns and mood changes. Serotonin is a brain chemical affecting mood, and reduced sunlight can cause serotonin levels to plummet.

Lack of direct exposure to sunlight can also lead to deficiencies in Vitamin D. Strong associations have been found between vitamin D deficiency and depression, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Many who are Vitamin D deficient don’t know it,” said CAPT Tara Smith, Ph.D., clinical psychologist assigned to OPNAV N171. “it’s very hard to get outside the skin of the ship and feel the sun on your face underway, and even in Iraq you’re completely covered. Although it’s a sunny 135 degrees, you’re not getting any sun on your skin.” Being Vitamin D deficient can contribute to sadness, especially in winter.

Beating the Blues

There are several treatments used to help those suffering from seasonal mood changes. For SAD, these can include talk therapy, light treatments, vitamin regimens or medications. Although symptoms of the winter blues usually improve with the change of season there are a few ways you can help your body adjust:

  • Optimize your sleep. Fatigue can affect mood, performance, memory and judgement. Aim for seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night, preferably at the same time each day. If you can’t get that amount of uninterrupted sleep, compensating with a nap has proven benefits. 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.
  • Choose foods that help to balance your mood. Studies indicate people who suffer from SAD may have lower levels of serotonin in the winter months. A balanced diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein can provide a natural source of serotonin. Try a breakfast of steel cut oatmeal, bananas and eggs for a mood-balancing boost. Check out this post for additional tips.
  • Go for a workout outdoors. It may be chilly, but exercising outdoors when possible during daytime hours can help you soak up some Vitamin D even when it’s not particularly sunny. Plus, physical activity improves your mood, helps you sleep, increases endurance and helps you navigate stress. Round up a few shipmates and go for a run around the flight-deck, try a group fitness class on your installation, sweat it out on the yoga mat or get fit with interval training.

When to Seek Help

It’s important to recognize that SAD is a serious condition and is characterized by the same symptoms as other forms of depression. Signs may include a sustained feeling of depression that occurs most days and most of every day, loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed, low energy and feelings of sluggishness, hopelessness or agitation. Sometimes, symptoms may start off mild and progress in severity over time. Symptoms of a Vitamin D deficiency can mimic SAD, but also include issues like joint pain. If you suspect a Vitamin D deficiency, a simple visit to your Primary Care Manager (PCM) for a blood test can determine your levels, Smith said.

No one has to try and navigate seasonal depression or SAD alone. Reach out to a mental health provider at your command, installation or nearest military treatment facility, or seek confidential non-medical counseling from Military OneSource. If you feel hopeless or are thinking of suicide, get immediate help through the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1.

For more information on psychological health and navigating stress, like U.S. Navy Operational Stress Control on Facebook or follow @NavStress on Twitter. For additional resources, messages and materials, download the Every Sailor, Every Day campaign’s FY-19 1 Small ACT Toolkit.

Boosting Your Energy without Misusing Prescription Stimulants

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There never seems to be enough hours in the day to get everything done and get enough sleep. We strive for alertness and productivity, but they often seem easier to dream of than to truly achieve. While strong coffee or energy drinks (which carry their own risks) are popular quick-fixes among Sailors to boost energy and alertness, there may be temptation to use prescription stimulants to strengthen performance on the job. Using prescription stimulants in this way can put Sailors’ health and careers at risk, especially if taking someone else’s medication.  There are safe and natural alternatives to prescription stimulants that you can incorporate into your day-to-day routine to boost your energy when you may not always be able to get the sleep you need.

Understanding Prescription Stimulants and their Effects

Prescription medications such as Adderall (Dextroamphetamine-Amphetamine) and Ritalin (Methylphenidate) are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a condition causing chronic inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behaviors. In some cases, they are also used to treat narcolepsy, a condition marked by intense daytime drowsiness. These medications are central nervous system stimulants that affect certain chemicals in the brain. For people who have ADHD or narcolepsy, these medications are very effective in the treatment of their symptoms and can help them gain the attentiveness and alertness that they need to function in their daily lives.

Because of stimulants’ ability to alleviate inattentiveness and sleepiness in people with ADHD or narcolepsy, some people who do not have diagnosed conditions feel that these medications may create positive results for them. However, a small study of college students co-conducted by the University of Rhode Island and Brown University found that these medications are not helpful to people who do not have ADHD. While they may provide temporary improvement of mood and focus, they do not appear to improve performance or reading comprehension, and they can impair short-term memory. Additionally, if not under the supervision of a doctor, an individual taking prescription stimulants that they have not been prescribed could be at risk of potentially harmful side effects such as heart problems, increased blood pressure or stroke.

Increasing Alertness and Attention Safely

When your watchstanding duty makes you feel like taping your eyelids open, getting these sorts of medications from a friend, family member or shipmate may seem like a good option. But sharing prescription medications can potentially threaten your Navy career. Try these tips to safely work towards becoming more attentive, alert and productive.

  • Optimize your sleep. Being tired and fatigued is a huge factor in preventing alertness. Seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night is ideal for Sailors, but it isn’t always possible. Sufficient sleep contributes to better memory, mood and performance. If that sort of sleep schedule is out of reach for you, squeezing in 30-minute or two-hour naps can alleviate fatigue and get you on track. Caffeine may be a helpful energy booster for you but remember to avoid it during the latter half of your day, as it can prevent restful sleep. Large meals, tobacco products, alcohol and exercise before bed can also be disruptive to your sleep, so avoid those in the few hours before you plan to lie down. A helpful tip for watch standing is following a 3/9 watchbill. This includes three-hour watches with nine hours off between watches. Ask your supervisor about following this schedule that maximizes performance and allows for adequate rest.
  • Establish a mindful morning routine. Waking up and putting yourself into the right mindset for productivity is essential. Try to find time for activities that promote balanced energy and focus, like meditation, working out and eating a balanced breakfast. Avoid checking your email as that can overload your brain with all the tasks you have to do. The same goes for checking social media and feeling bombarded with all the things that your connections have going on in their lives.
  • Focus on the tasks that matter and give yourself breaks. Instead of creating your to-do list with every single one of your tasks in mind, identify what is especially pressing for the day and focus on completing those. Remember that getting things done doesn’t have to be a marathon, so take breaks. Overworking the brain can make productivity even more challenging, frustrating and tiring.
  • Complete your most challenging work before lunch. Find yourself feeling sluggish after eating lunch? Try working on your more difficult tasks before your break when the mind is still fresh and you’re able to put forth your best energy. Save the “busy work” that doesn’t require as much creativity or brain power for later.
  • Eat for energy and resilience. A balanced diet not only promotes physical health, it also affects emotional and psychological health. Eating can be an emotional response, causing us to snack when bored or tired. Those feelings may cause us to crave processed foods like chips or high-sugar snacks such as cookies. Choosing whole foods over processed foods can positively impact mood and give you the energy you need to get through the day. Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains or fruit can provide an energy boost, and lean proteins and vegetables can give your mood a needed boost as well. Caffeine can give you a jolt of energy but in excess can increase anxiety and cause apprehension, agitation and uneasiness as well as dehydration. Most caffeinated energy drinks also contain high amounts of sugar, which can create the unwanted effect of fatigue if blood sugar levels significantly increase too rapidly.

Prescription stimulants are safe and helpful for individuals with diagnosed conditions that require their use but are harmful when used as a quick fix for your energy or productivity deficit. Implementing these tips into your daily routine can help you boost your energy naturally, strengthening your performance without threatening your health or Navy career.

Knowing the Signs and Reaching Out for Help

Seeking help promptly is the best thing you can do for health and safety if you think you or someone you know may have a problem with prescription drug misuse. Signs of prescription drug misuse include:

  • Mood swings or hostility
  • Abnormal energy
  • Significant increase or decrease in fatigue or sleep
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Asking friends and family members for their medication
  • Claiming that their prescription was lost or stolen

If you recognize these signs within yourself or others, speak with your command Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor (DAPA) or doctor, or call 1-866-U-ASK-NPC.

For more information and tips to use prescription drugs safely, visit the Prescription for Discharge campaign online at http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/support/21st_Century_Sailor/DDD/campaigns/prescription/Pages/default.aspx.

Nutrition’s Role in Building Resilience

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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest blog provided courtesy of the Real Warriors Campaign. Navy Suicide Prevention Branch is a proud partner of the Real Warriors Campaign. To learn more, visit www.realwarriors.net.

Proper nutrition is vital to maintaining good health and mission readiness.1 In this article, you will find tips on making healthy food choices, whether at home or while deployed. You can also help boost the resilience of your whole family by sharing these tips with loved ones.

Why Nutrition is Important

One of the most important drivers of good physical and psychological health is what we eat.2 Food provides the energy and nutrients you need to be healthy. Nutrients include:3

  • Proteins (e.g. fish, chicken, beans)
  • Carbohydrates (e.g., bread, fruits, vegetables)
  • Fats (e.g., walnuts, olive oils)
  • Vitamins (e.g., vitamin D, folic acid)
  • Minerals (e.g., potassium, calcium)
  • Water

In short, healthy food is really fuel for the body. This fuel is key to your physical and mental performance, and helps maintain emotional control during field operations.4 Beyond performance, nutrition also plays an important role in protecting overall health throughout a lifetime. A diet rich in whole grains, lean protein, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products helps lower the risk of certain diseases such as diabetes.3

Nutrition Tips

While healthy food options may be limited while deployed, the military has long understood the role of nutrition for service members. The military is continually working on improving the food supply for deployed warriors such as introducing the Unitized Group Ration–Express, a nutritionally complete meal-in-a-box group ration, and re-assigning some dietitians at dining facilities to implement education programs and food selection recommendations.If you are deployed, keep these helpful nutrition tips in mind:

  • To boost energy, consume complex carbohydrates such as fruits and whole grain bread
  • To meet the demand for increased energy needs in the field, increase your intake of food to prevent fatigue
  • To meet the need for increased energy in cold weather and at high altitudes, try to eat healthy, nutritious snacks in between meals and drink more than your thirst may dictate since the sensation does not keep pace with water loss.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration; even mild dehydration can reduce your physical and mental performance

While home, and when possible while deployed, the following daily nutrition recommendations are important to keep in mind:1,5

Fruits and vegetables Eat at least 3 – 5 servings of colorful vegetables and 2 or more servings of fruit each day.
Grains Aim for 6 or more servings of whole grain products each day.
Fiber 20 – 35 grams of dietary fiber are recommended daily, although a low-fiber diet may be preferred during some operations.
Dairy Aim to have 3 cups of low-fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese, each day.
Meat/beans Eat 7 ounces of meat or beans (legumes) each day, with lean or low-fat choices that are heavy on fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.

In addition to these food groups, research is also uncovering the importance of omega-3 fatty acids to a healthy diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to decreased risk of heart disease, certain cancers, circulatory problems and high blood pressure. Researchers have also linked omega-3 deficiencies with increased risk of depression or other psychological health concerns. Some studies indicate that supplements provided to warriors who have low levels of omega-3s might provide a significant boost in their mood and additional resistance to stress.1 Seafood, including oily ocean fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel, are among the richest fish sources of DHA, one of the most efficient forms of omega-3 fatty acids. While there is no official recommendation on a recommended daily allowance for omega-3, dietary guidelines call for increasing the amount of seafood consumed as part of a healthy eating pattern.6

 

What Line Leaders Can Do

As a line leader it is important to stay informed about your service’s nutrition programs. It is also important to educate units about nutrition using guidance from each respective service.1 Finally, you should provide a model for healthy eating behavior and encourage everyone to make nutrition choices that help build resilience and contribute to mission success.

Additional Resources

Sources

1Scott Montain, Christina Carvey and Mark Stephens. “Nutritional Fitness” [PDF 4.65MB], Total Force Fitness for the 21st Century, Supplement to Military Medicine-Volume 175. Published August 2010.
2The Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
3Nutrition, MedLine Plus, National Institutes of Health. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
4Module 6: High Caliber Nutrition in the Field [PDF 1.10MB], U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional). Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
5Patricia A. Deuster and others. “Sustaining Health for the Long-Term Warfighter” [PDF 451KB], The Warfighter Nutrition Guide, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Last accessed Aug. 20, 2014.
6Covington, Maggie. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” American Family Physician. Published July 1, 2004.
7Health Consequences, Overweight & Obesity, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.