The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is undertaking a major research initiative with the help of Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment. The study is being conducted in support of a directive from the Canadian Armed Forces Council, issued in February 2015, to enhance current fitness strategies. Dr. Julie Martin of the Directorate Fitness Team is overseeing the study that will use real-world measurement data investigate the physiological impact of participant’s daily life and will be used to better understand fitness related topics across the CAF.
The study, which is already underway, plans to include data from approximately 600 active members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Members across the country have been invited to participate voluntarily. Rather than submitting their name and rank, research participants are being assigned a number that will be used throughout the study to ensure anonymity.
As part of the study, participants in the study will have their heartbeats recorded around the clock over the course of a 6-day period. The recordings will be captured using the Firstbeat Bodyguard 2 device, a unique and purposefully designed high-definition digital recording device that samples cardiac activity at a rate of 1000 times per second. This gives researchers a very detailed recording that can be analyzed using the Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment platform and interpreted by expert professionals.
“For most people who do the assessment as part of a corporate fitness program, a 3-day measurement period that includes a pair of typical workdays and a leisure day is enough for us to see what’s going in their lives,” explains Tiina Hoffman, an expert physiologist and Firstbeat Wellness Specialist. “The Canadian Armed Forces project is a little different, in that they are performing a 6-day measurement. This is a very good approach, because of the scope of what they are trying to achieve with the study and the range of activities that life in the armed forces, especially during a deployment, can entail.”
A number of Canadian base personnel have already completed their monitoring portion of the study, including personnel aboard the HMCS Montréal during a recent deployment. The HMCS Montreal is a Halifax Class Frigate, based at CFB Halifax and operating as part of the Maritime Forces Atlantic.
In addition to fitness and physical activity data, researchers will be able to examine participant’s stress and recovery patterns throughout the day. This is possible due to Firstbeat’s ability to extract heart rate variability data (HRV) from the recordings and analyze it in a way that reveals activities the autonomic nervous system. This includes engagements of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system as they fast-regulate cardiac function via the vagal nerve. These insights provide researchers a chance to better understand the specific physiological impacts of participant’s real-world activities. It also unlocks the possibility of identifying where small changes can be made to improve health and well-being in the big picture.
Dr. Michael Spivock, Senior Manager Health Promotion Delivery PSP and co-author of the study outlined the the project in a recent article. “It’s the [CAF’s] first assessment of people’s true activity patterns,” he explained. “Participants are being advised to be themselves and live their lives as they normally would. We tell them it is not a contest to see how physically active they are and how they stack up against others, but that we are trying to get a better sense of their heart rate, sleep patterns and how it relates to physical activity.”
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