Should We Improve Thermal Tolerance in Military Personnel Prior to Deployment?

Research Paper Title

Methods for improving thermal tolerance in military personnel prior to deployment.

Background

Acute exposure to heat, such as that experienced by people arriving into a hotter or more humid environment, can compromise physical and cognitive performance as well as health.

In military contexts heat stress is exacerbated by the combination of protective clothing, carried loads, and unique activity profiles, making them susceptible to heat illnesses.

As the operational environment is dynamic and unpredictable, strategies to minimise the effects of heat should be planned and conducted prior to deployment.

Methods

This review explores how heat acclimation (HA) prior to deployment may attenuate the effects of heat by initiating physiological and behavioural adaptations to more efficiently and effectively protect thermal homeostasis, thereby improving performance and reducing heat illness risk.

HA usually requires access to heat chamber facilities and takes weeks to conduct, which can often make it impractical and infeasible, especially if there are other training requirements and expectations.

Recent research in athletic populations has produced protocols that are more feasible and accessible by reducing the time taken to induce adaptations, as well as exploring new methods such as passive HA.

Results

These protocols use shorter HA periods or minimise additional training requirements respectively, while still invoking key physiological adaptations, such as lowered core temperature, reduced heart rate and increased sweat rate at a given intensity.

For deployments of special units at short notice (< 1 day) it might be optimal to use heat re-acclimation to maintain an elevated baseline of heat tolerance for long periods in anticipation of such an event.

Conclusions

Methods practical for military groups are yet to be fully understood, therefore further investigation into the effectiveness of HA methods is required to establish the most effective and feasible approach to implement them within military groups.

Reference

Ashworth, E.T., Cotter, J.D. & Kilding, A.E. (2020) Methods for improving thermal tolerance in military personnel prior to deployment. Military Medical Research. 7(1), pp.58. doi: 10.1186/s40779-020-00287-z.

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