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Wearing helmets affects performance


Wearing protective helmets during sports can affect performance, according to a new study from Northumbria University.

Tests were carried out on a group of young male cricketers and researchers investigated the physical and mental demands during an intense batting practice over eight overs when wearing a standard non-vented safety helmet and when not wearing a helmet at all.

The research revealed that wearing helmets led to significant attentional impairments and slower reaction times in certain tests.

The findings do not only have an impact on cricketers, but also for anyone who routinely wears a helmet for safety purposes, from construction workers and military personnel through to other sports uses including horse riding and cycling or whenever a significant increase in body temperature is likely to occur.

However, the researchers stress that the improved safety provided when wearing a helmet far outweighs the negative effects of wearing one.

The findings will be presented at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference at Imperial College, London today, Thursday 15 April.

Dr Nick Neave, from Northumbria University’s Human Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, said: “Whereas the head only accounts for 7-10% of the total body surface, temperatures at the head are typically higher than in other body regions.

“Helmet use reduces airflow over the head and this has led to speculation that individuals who routinely wear safety helmets may be prone to heat-related stress and tasks requiring a high degree of attention can be more affected by this.

“Our research has revealed that whilst wearing a helmet has no detrimental physiological affect for the user, it did lead to significant attentional impairments and slower reaction times in certain test conditions which could affect those cognitive skills essential for successful batting performance, just as many cricketers have suspected.

“Protective helmets recommended for use in cricket are not required to have ventilation gaps which would allow for heat to transfer from the head, although some teams do use them.

“Correct and rapid decision making is essential for a batsman at the crease and our research could have significance not just for cricket but for other mentally demanding sports and professions where people have to wear head protection.

“We do however stress that improved safety when wearing a helmet far outweighs the small negative effects of wearing one.”

The tests, carried out by Dr Neave and colleagues Dr Mark Moss and John Emmet, used a sensitive computerised test battery to measure temperature, hydration and fatigue levels before exercise and after 30 minutes of intense batting practice.

They are now planning to further investigate the effects of wearing vented and non-vented helmets in different conditions.

Andrea Trainer | alfa
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