Award Winning Finnish Director Aku Louhimies Investigates His Personal Well-being with Firstbeat While Working on National Epic

Firstbeat Story: Aku Louhimies

Filmmaking is a legendarily arduous labor, requiring dedication and perseverance. The process can be physically and emotionally draining, disturbing the body’s natural rhythms. Hoping to document and  better understand physiological impacts of his work, award winning Finnish director and screenwriter Aku Louhimies underwent the Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment to learn more about mastering the balance between daily activities, stress and recovery.

He performed a series of high definition heartbeat recordings during the filming of The Unknown Soldier in order to accurately reflect the real physiological challenges of his work. The film, based on Väinö Linna’s 1954 novel of the same name, is scheduled to be released in 2017 to correspond with the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence. “I hope that this film unites generations and helps people find new perspectives on where we Finns have come from,” says Louhimies about the project where he not only directs the film, but also has roles as second producer and scriptwriter.

Physical strain, stress, and recovery were systematically measured at different phases of the filming process. Always the investigator, Louhimies was particularly interested to seeing the differing impacts of light vs heavier filming weeks and how jet-lag influenced his ability to stay ahead of the game.

Louhimies was able to perform the high-definition heartbeat recordings needed for the analysis himself, using the Firstbeat Bodyguard 2 heart rate variability recording device. These recordings were then analyzed by Firstbeat Wellness Professionals, who then provided feedback and guidance to Louhimies based on the findings.

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Visible from under Aku’s shirt is Firstbeat’s Heart Rate Variability recorder Bodyguard 2. Picture: Tommi Hynynen

While a typical assessment considers three consecutive days of round-the-clock recording of data, the intense irregularity of filmmaking and a desire to learn from the unique opportunity prompted a more rigorous schedule of monitoring and analysis.  Louhimies’ heart data recordings were performed once or twice per month during the six heaviest production months and lasted up to a week. Delighted by the feedback he has received thus far, he plans to continue regular assessments using the Firstbeat technology in the future.

“This is an especially exciting opportunity, because it’s the first time we’ve had a chance to look at how a project like filmmaking impacts the body,” explains Firstbeat Wellness Professional Satu Tuominen. “Over the years, we have performed many assessments investigating athlete performance and preparation activities, but here we get to follow a movie director with the same degree of intensity. Despite the obvious differences, there are some things athletes and directors have in common. In each, the best possible performances depend on making smart daily sleep and nutrition choices.”

“Making a movie is such a long process that it is like running a marathon… if a marathon lasted an entire year” commented Louhimies . “Taking care of your own wellbeing is essential and during production I avoided alcohol, other than once while we were monitoring,  when we wanted to look at the impact it might have on recovery. From the results, it was clear that alcohol didn’t aid my recovery process.

Passion for work supports recovery

Over the course of the project, Louhimies demonstrated a remarkable talent for recovery, despite working long hours and minimal opportunities for sleep. Possible reasons for his remarkable recovery abilities include healthy lifestyle, personal fitness levels, and a passion for his work. Contrary to what many people expect, research shows that some forms of stress can actually stimulate recovery in the body.

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Despite working long hours and minimal opportunities for sleep Aku demonstrated a remarkable talent for recovery

Commenting on the data provided by the Firstbeat analytics server, Louhimies revealed, “It’s clear in the reports that by traditional expectations, I don’t always have enough sleep and recovery time available, but it was interesting to see how effective even small amounts of sleep can be.”

“Over the years, I have noticed that I can get by for a while on a shortened sleep schedule. Here I can see, directly, how the restorative quality of my sleep can sometimes make up for shorter sleeping schedules. It was also revealing to see how often my daily work qualifies as physical activity. We don’t always think in those terms.”

Analysis of the measurements performed between May and July, peak production schedule, revealed that Louhimies’ recovery levels improved, even though the filming days were among the most intense.

According to Firstbeat’s Tuominen, “This is a familiar phenomenon from our work with elite athletes, where it is described as supercompensation. It occurs when performance capacities improve due to the right timing of stress and rest.”

By August the hectic pace and prolonged exertion began to take its toll. The data revealed that Louhimies’ daytime recovery levels began to deteriorate, and his sleep lost some of the restorative efficiency that had sustained him earlier. When the body is in a weakened state, it is more susceptible to illness, so it came as no surprise that towards the end of August, following a week of outdoor filming, the Louhimies fell ill with a fever.

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Bu August Aku’s recovery levels began to deteriorate

“You need a lot of energy to stay creative,” says Louhimies. “And in this line of work, it is important to charge your batteries by taking advantage of those moments when you aren’t as busy. Walking through town or going to a park can be very stimulating experiences which bring ideas and thoughts flowing effortlessly.”

“Whether I am in the city or in the forest, when I’m just wandering around, that’s when ideas are born. Those are meaningful experiences and it’s fascinating to see how those moments also benefit my body’s recovery processes. Of course, it’s possible to perform in times of pressure and crisis, but new ideas rarely surface during those stressful times.”

“I definitely look forward to continuing with these assessments in the future. I think it would be particularly interesting to learn more about traveling and jet lag’s impact on my body, and what I can do to minimize the effects. I have a trip planned to the US at the moment, so we have a perfect opportunity looming to learn what works best.”

Additional information:

Satu Tuominen, Wellness Professional, satu.tuominen@firstbeat.com

Laura Sutinen, laura.sutinen@tuntematonsotilas2017.fi

Cover picture: Jari Rantala.