Firefighters are not only responsible for daily-tasks around the department, but must also be prepared to respond to any incoming emergency (medical or fire) call throughout their shift (day or night). From this perspective, call load, call timing, tasks performed while on-shift, sleeping patterns, nutrition, and off-shift activity can all play factors into total recovery of firefighting personnel. With an increasing wave of wellness initiatives for the first responder community comes personnel willing to dedicate time and resources toward wellness program development. As an expansion of current research collaborations, the Health and Human Performance Department of Texas A&M University Commerce reached out to Melissa Fire Department to partake in a 6-month WHOOP – HRV, sleep, and recovery study. The purpose behind the HRV research collaboration between Jabai Performance, Texas A&M University – Commerce, and Melissa Fire Department is to:
- Provide a platform to assist participating firefighters in providing data to help regulate their off-shift physical activity
- Provide a means for participating firefighters to understand the impact that sleep, nutrition, job-tasks/workload, and physical activity has on the body
- Provide a line of communication for personnel to engage in conversation with collaborating parties regarding fitness and nutrition
- Provide insight on the impact that the current 24 hour on – 48 hours off shift schedule has on participating firefighters
All participants must be full-time firefighting personnel. The participants will wear the WHOOP strap/device, funded by the Ronald McNair TRIO Scholar Award received by researcher Paula Flores, for the entire 6-month duration. Participants are to not remove the device throughout the 6 months, even while off duty. The WHOOP device will gather highly valuable information, such as quality of sleep, level of strain (external/internal stress), caloric expenditure, and heart-rate variability from participating personnel. This data will be collected, organized, and published as formal research in approved research journals. Research data will further encourage current and future researchers, practitioners, and tactical operators to evaluate the pros and cons of different shift types. The information will also encourage the on-going discussion regarding off-duty/on-duty activity and training regulation.
Introducing the Researchers
Paula Flores is an upcoming senior majoring in Kinesiology and Sport Studies with a minor in Interdisciplinary Studies. She is a Presidential and Ronald McNair Scholar and currently works as a Resident Assistant for Texas A&M University in Commerce. Paula is a mentor for the Office of Student Disabilities and a mentor for the
student organization Mujeres de Accion, which focuses on empowering first-generation Latina women in college. Paula also volunteers at St. Joseph Catholic Church as a Sunday school teacher and was involved in many service opportunities such as the Special Olympics and Operation Blue and Gold and was nominated for the change maker award. She participates in intramural sports such as tennis and softball. Paula Flores is an undergraduate research assistant, who assists with recruitment, device distribution, device storage, management of study data, and data entry for statistical analysis for the Longitudinal Study of Stress Recovery Indices and Heart Rate Variability in Full-Time Firefighters. Her goal is to make a difference every day, no matter how small the act may be. She hopes to become an Occupational Therapist and help people recover from injuries and at the same time boost their confidence in their abilities.
Dr. Michael Oldham
A world-wide human performance practitioner and researcher, Dr. Michael Oldham holds a PhD in Exercise Physiology & Nutrition, exploring the role of supplements in human performance, stress, and recovery. Dr. Oldham’s 30 years of experience as a coach is spread across a variety of youth, collegiate, and professional sports, including a consulting coaching role with the US Women’s National Soccer Team prior to the 1996 Olympics. His current research objectives at Texas A&M University – Commerce center around stress and recovery and increasing mobility in first responders. Stress and recovery research is conducted using heart rate variability (HRV) and continual heart rate monitoring through heart rate monitors worn around the wrist, i.e., the WHOOP Heart Rate System. The WHOOP system allows both participants and researchers continual, 24-hour per day, data streaming that reports on strain, sleep, recovery, calories burned, and resting heart rate. The data is important to tactical athletes to provide stress management strategies, recovery day strategies, and nutritional intake needs on a day by day basis. As researchers gather longitudinal data, while educating first responders on proper data analysis, the data can also be used by municipalities to better structure shift rotations and shift timings. Helping the greater community use data to drive decision making at the highest level of the priority for the Texas A&M University – Commerce Health and Human Performance Department.
Hussien Jabai, MS, CSCS, TSAC-F, CPT, is a tactical strength and conditioning professional with a focus in first responder fitness program development, first responder research, and TSAC practitioner professional development. As both an undergrad and grad student at Texas A&M University – Commerce, Mr. Jabai studied kinesiology through the Health and Human Performance Department,
worked as both a personal trainer and personal training manager at the campus recreation center, and devoted hours toward understanding the application of exercise science to tactical personnel. After finishing his master’s degree, Mr. Jabai now dedicates his time toward presenting on the concepts of strength and conditioning for the tactical community, forming research collaborations driven to improve the lives of first responders, consulting with departments on wellness program initiatives, and developing continued education programs designed to educate both exercise science professionals and the tactical personnel that they service. As an expansion to developing education opportunities for TSAC practitioners, Mr Jabai is currently collaborating with the Health and Human Performance department of Texas A&M University – Commerce to offer TSAC practitioner courses for both a certificate program and as credit for student degree plans. Mr. Jabai is currently serving TAMUC as adjunct faculty for the Health and Human Performance Department, driving the initiative for TSAC curriculum within the academic setting.
What is Heart Rate Variability?
Heart rate variability, known as HRV, is the measured interval between heartbeats utilized as a marker of the capacity to regulate internal and external demands (Young, & Benton, 2018). A higher HRV is associated with better health (Young, & Benton, 2018), while a lower HRV has been associated with many negative health effects (shown below). The measured interval between beats is not always constant (Young, & Benton, 2018), therefore monitoring protocol should allow for a duration of time to develop a baseline for participants. Utilizing devices that monitor HRV is a noninvasive way of evaluating autonomic cardiac function (Harris, et al., 2014).
In a clinical setting, low HRV is associated with mortality in patients with:
- coronary artery disease
- chronic heart failure
- history of myocardial infarction
Low HRV associated with:
- end-stage renal disease
(de Geus, et al., 2019)
Reduction of HRV also associated with the following:
- cardiovascular disease
- psychiatric disorders
(Young, & Benton, 2018)
de Geus, E., Gianaros, P. J., Brindle, R. C., Jennings, J. R., & Berntson, G. G. (2019). Should heart rate variability be “corrected” for heart rate? Biological, quantitative, and interpretive considerations. Psychophysiology, 56(2), e13287. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13287
Harris, P. R., Stein, P. K., Fung, G. L., & Drew, B. J. (2014). Heart rate variability measured early in patients with evolving acute coronary syndrome and 1-year outcomes of rehospitalization and mortality. Vascular health and risk management, 10, 451–464. https://doi.org/10.2147/VHRM.S57524
Young, H. A., & Benton, D. (2018). Heart-rate variability: a biomarker to study the influence of nutrition on physiological and psychological health?. Behavioural pharmacology, 29(2 and 3-Spec Issue), 140–151. https://doi.org/10.1097/FBP.0000000000000383