50 steps was all it took for school pupils to experience the effects of altitude on their bodies. On the 26th June 2019, I was given the opportunity to help raise awareness about the effects of altitude alongside a wonderful charity called Para-Monte. We were invited to the eighth annual Big Bang Fair, which invited over 10,000 secondary school students from the region, to provide information about many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) areas of expertise. It was a great honour to help spread the word about altitude and increase the reach in which Para-Monte has on the public to allow individuals to understand the dangers of altitude; a message at the forefront of Para-Monte’s vision due to the tragic loss of the founders’ son (Adam Savory) in 2012 due to an altitude-related incident.
The Environmental Extremes Lab has invested in a new LED lighting system for our environmental chamber to enable our students to embark upon some innovative and fun research investigations around altering perception and how this might influence behavioural thermoregulation and exercise performance.
A recently published paper written by Dr Emily Watkins in Women’s Health Issues has received significant media interest around the world. The study aimed to identify specific health and well-being concerns of women firefighters. The survey was developed in collaboration with firefighter networks, in the UK this was in conjunction with the Women in the Fire Service organisation. There was also collaboration with Anthony Walker (Australia), Eric Mol (Netherlands) and Sara Jahnke (USA). In total 840 women from 14 countries completed the survey, the countries were grouped together into geographical locations.
Key highlights from the paper specific to UK and Ireland women firefighters included:
- Around 20% report a musculoskeletal injury that they believe was caused by their job, this is similar to the rates of injury previously reported in males.
- Around 12% report depression or PTSD linked to their job, this is similar to that previously reported in emergency services.
- 5% report fertility issues that they believe are caused by their job.
- 26% have suffered some form of heat related injury.
- 20% reported that they were peri/menopausal, with 24% of those suggesting that it impacts them at work. This was through a variety of ways but most commonly due to hot flushes.
- 60% of ladies who were not yet peri/menopausal were worried about how it may affect them in the future. This is much higher than the % concerned from other countries.
- Only 16% were confident they could do their job at the age of 60yrs, with key concerns being meeting fitness standards (specifically strength related), the physical demands of the job, injuries they had suffered, and the impact the menopause may have.
- Only 18% were provided with strength and conditioning support/training. This was much lower than the 44% in the USA and Canada.
- 43% of UK&I ladies would like more support/guidance with fitness and training, with suggestions being: specific plans, strength training, and age/sex specific training.
- 66% had access to female specific PPE. This is greater than access in other countries. However there were still concerns about the fit and quality of the PPE. Only 25% of American and Canadian firefighters had access to female specific kit.
- Other concerns were: risk of cancer, fertility issues, returning to work after pregnancy & impact of the job on breastfeeding.
Overall the paper indicates the need for further research and education surrounding the impacts of the menopause and issues surrounding fertility and maternal health. The study also highlights the need for appropriate PPE for female firefighters (as this may be linked to risk of injuries) and the desire within the service for further support with regards to strength/training programmes to help ensure career longevity.
Paper Reference and Link:
Emily Watkins, Anthony Walker, Eric Mol, Sara Jahnke & Alan Richardson (2019). Women Firefighters’ Health and Well-Being: An International Survey. Women’s Health Issues, https://www.whijournal.com/article/S1049-3867(18)30561-9/fulltext
Well done to our SI627 – Expedition Physiology – students for another successful expedition, marking the 15th consecutive year since Dr Neil Maxwell started the module and the annual trip in 2004. This year, again led by Dr Alan Richardson, saw us back in Brecon Beacons where we arguably had the most spectacular weather yet. Thirty students, with leaders Dr Alan Richardson, Dr Mark Hayes, Dr Nick Smeeton, Dr Neil Maxwell and Rebecca Relf took to the Black Mountain hills of Wales donned in a multitude of outdoor gear, albeit not with as much suncream as was needed (isn’t that right Frank and Charlotte!).
This year some of our MSc Applied Sport/Exercise Physiology students (Serdar Hussein, Sarah Pickering, Niforissa Musa, Mari-Anne Elder, Adam Crook and Harrison Collier-Bain) helped support Josie Adams, ambassador to the Para-Monte altitude awareness charity that we work closely with, in her preparations for this year’s Marathon des Sables (MDS). As part of the Environmental Extremes Lab Service, led by PhD student Gregor Eichhorn, the MSc students delivered a 4 day heat acclimation package to prepare Josie for the harsh conditions expected in the MDS in Morocco. The MDS is a 250 km gruelling multi-day race across the Saharan desert which appeals to around 1000 competitors from all over the world each year. In 2017, Josie was 7th in the event and 1st British female, so we know she has it in her!
On Wednesday 20th March, eighteen BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science students from the University of Brighton visited Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre to present their dissertation findings to practitioners of the English Institute of Sport (EIS) around optimising performance to the heat expected at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
Co-Head of Physiology at the EIS, Dr Esme Matthew, said,
I just wanted to say a HUGE thank you to you and your team for yesterday (and all the work that went into the poster session beforehand). I can’t tell you how valuable it was, and what a buzz the team got from spending time going round all the posters. The students were brilliant, very professional, and had clearly put a lot of thought and effort into their posters, you must be really proud of them all.
On the 6th November 2018, Dr Neil Maxwell on behalf of the University of Brighton signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the English Institute of Sport (EIS) to signify a statement of intent to collaborate. This MoU reflects the on-going support the Environmental Extremes Lab Team are providing the EIS and associated national teams as they prepare for the heat of Tokyo at the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
On Friday 23 November, Dr Neil Maxwell and Dr Mark Hayes attended the World Extreme Medicine Conference at the Dynamic Earth Convention Centre in Edinburgh on behalf of Para-Monte. The aim was to raise awareness about the work the charity does and the importance of educating individuals about altitude illnesses. A YouTube Para-Monte Altitude Awareness Video now exists which reflects the partnership between the Environmental Extremes Lab and Para-Monte.
We are currently recruiting female participants who have been diagnosed with breast cancer alongside healthy females (as a control group), aged 40-64 years, to take part in a research study that examines their responses to exercise in a hot environment. The study involves four visits with the exercise protocol requiring participants to walk on a treadmill in our environmental chamber. The research will take place at the Eastbourne Campus of the University of Brighton.
Rebecca Relf is conducting this research as part of her PhD studies, with Chanel Coppard, an MSc Applied Exercise Physiology student and Berenice Grimshaw, a BSc Sport and Exercise Science student, supporting her. The research team would like to speak to you if you are interested in getting involved and help improve our understanding of heat sensitivity in breast cancer survivors. Please see the recruitment poster below for details.
We have been a bit silent on the Environmental Extremes Lab Blog recently. In part, this has allowed us to recharge the batteries after a very busy last academic year. Nevertheless, plenty has been going on over the summer and early autumn months. We supported nine MSc research projects allied to environmental extremes, with some exciting results coming out of them to share in due course. Dr Alan Richardson and Dr Mark Hayes were interviewed as experts for a Ministry of Defence Service Inquiry into the death of a soldier during an annual fitness test at Brecon in 2016. Mark with Dr Ash Willmott presented to the GB Hockey team around pre and per cooling strategies leading up to Tokyo 2020. We supported another two Para-Monte Altitude Awareness Days for individuals heading to altitude. Well done to our own University of Brighton’s Sally Reeve and her daughter, Marianne, who successfully and safely completed their trek to Machu Picchu, passing Dead Women’s Pass on the way.