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Compression wear study probes brain blood flow

UC and AIS researchers
The researchers include UC's Joe Northey, Ben Rattray, Disa Smee and Brittany Smale, and Nathan Versey, from the AIS. The participant on the bike is Blake McAuly.

26 Aug 2015

Donning compression garment tights could be a simple way to produce smarter  athletes.

That is the enticing overview of a collaborative research project  between the AIS and the University of Canberra’s Research Institute for Sport and Exercise (UCRISE), probing the effects of compression garments on blood flow in the brain.

AIS Physiologist Nathan Versey, who is supervising UCRISE student Brittany Smale for her honours thesis, said the study of cyclists could find athletes wearing compression garments not only have documented performance and recovery benefits but increased blood flow to the brain enhancing better decision-making processes.

"We're looking at whether wearing the compression garment specifically during an exercise bout increases the blood flow to the brain, and therefore alters brain function,"  Versey said.

The idea for the research came from findings of elderly people having increased blood flood to their brains while exercising in water.

"By them doing light exercise in water, which provides water pressure onto the body, that resulted in increased blood flow to the brain,” Versey said.

“The anticipation is that this could transfer across a variety of sports with the idea to see whether there is some form of cognitive change, which could be important for athletes in terms of sporting performance where they have to make decisions.

“So team sports, where you have to make decisions while competing, or transfer to a cycling event where you have to make tactical decisions. It could transfer across to the everyday person and the weekend warrior.

“There is a growing body of research out there on the effects of compression garments on performance. The bulk of the evidence on their use exists when used as a post-exercise recovery aid … there is a little bit of evidence for them to be used during exercise as well.”

For the study, cyclists answer simple questions while undertaking gruelling time trials.

The answers are then compared to those when the cyclists are wearing hospital-grade compression garments, commercially-available compression clothes and then when they are being tested not wearing compression wear.

Versey said the close proximity of the AIS and UCRISE made sense for each facility to benefit from each other’s resources, including altitude, training and recovery assets.

“At the AIS we are very fortunate to have UC so close to us and hopefully the University of Canberra can benefit from their proximity of the Australian Institute of Sport as well,” he said. “We try to link in closely across a wide range of research to assist each other.”

Smale’s thesis – entitled the “Effect of compression garments on haemodynamics, physical performance, and cognitive function” – is expected to be presented to her supervisors by mid-October.

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