Continuing to perform in cold weather

Continuing to perform in cold weather

VUB Research on biological-behavioral and morphological indicators

Cold climates and polar regions affect the functioning of the human body. Both physically and mentally, these environments are challenging. Understanding how our bodies will respond in these conditions and what factors play an important role is essential for predicting performance and health. Various body characteristics and lifestyle patterns, such as sleep, diet and exercise, can influence performance and tolerance to cold. This research will be done in the context of military operations, but who knows, the results may also serve other purposes - those of winter sports enthusiasts, for example?

Prof Nathalie Pattyn, Prof Martine Van Puyvelde and Dr Jeroen Van Cutsem (Vrije Universiteit Brussel - Royal Military Academy, Belgium), Prof Bart Roelands (VUB), and Prof Olivier Mairesse (VUB) are part of an international research team that is looking for predictive factors on resilience and tolerance to cold. The study will allow the development of guidelines to optimize human performance in such conditions.


Research during military winter training and in Antarctica

For more than 10 years Prof Pattyn has been conducting research in Antarctica on sleep, health and well-being and human performance. This has grown into a line of research on which a whole team, both within the VUB and through national (KMS) and international collaborations, is working.

In Antarctica, this team conducted years of research, at different bases: Princess Elisabeth (BEL), Halley VI (UK), Dumont d'Urville (FRA) and Concordia (FRA & ITA), relying on the study of the relationship between sleep, physical activity and performance in this extreme environment.

Starting this year, they are studying a larger group of soldiers, from different countries: some 300 soldiers will participate in the study during military winter training in Norway, Canada and the United States. The first phase will start in the winter of 2022. Using predetermined parameters, the participants will collect information about their experiences during these trainings. They will report on their sleep habits and environment; their diet; mood and fatigue; any injuries they sustain, etc. They will also be subject to objective measurements such as body composition, and physical and cognitive performance.

The intention is to identify from the analyses sleep health, antromorphological and social-behavioral predictors of resilience and tolerance to cold during winter operations.


More about the research group

The team is composed of Prof. Guido Simonelli (Medicine - Université de Montréal); Prof. François Haman (Human Kinetics - University of Ottawa); Prof. Denis Blondin (Medicine - Université de Sherbrooke); Prof. Nathalie Pattyn, Prof Martine Van Puyvelde and Dr Jeroen Van Cutsem (Free University of Brussels - Royal Military School, Belgium); Prof. Bart Roelands and Prof. Olivier Mairesse (Free University of Brussels) with extensive collective expertise in sleep, nutrition, thermoregulation and human performance. The research will be conducted with support from external consultants from the Directorate of Fitness - Personnel Support Programs, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research's Behavioral Biology Branch, the Military Performance Division of the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. This program will enrich the following areas of knowledge: sleep in cold operational conditions, prevention of cold-related injuries, physical and mental performance in extreme environments.

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Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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