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Ice-cold and in great shape: A cold kick to jolt athletes into action despite the heat

The mere thought of the Olympic Games in China next year may make athletes sweat. Despite the great heat they strive for top sports performances.

In Beijing, the first preparations are being made to cool athletes down to the right operating temperature. That such measures are actually working, was proved in a study for the first time. For a few moments, scientists from Dortmund and Münster universities put more than 50 hobby and top athletes into a cryochamber with a temperature of minus 120 degrees. The first result: icy cold temperatures does lead test athletes to stay in optimal shape. The scientists will investigate how the application can be further improved by using other cooling methods such as cooling vests, cold air appliances, crushed ice or cold showers.

During some marathon races in Rotterdam. London, Dortmund and Brilon, more than hundred runners have been treated in hospital because of hyperthermia problems this summer. With Dr. Sandra Ückert in charge, sports scientists from Dortmund and Münster (supervision: Prof. Dr. Winfried Joch) have tried to answer the question of how the short-term application of extreme cold can affect sports performance.

For this purpose, the test athletes stay in a polarium at minus 120 degree celsius for two and a half minutes, then do a endurance run at 90% of their maximum capacity. After only six months, the scientists noticed that the subjects' performance had considerably improved due to optimal blood circulation and better oxygen supply.

According to the scientists, it is not enough to get used to the heat and to compensate for water loss by drinking; warming-up is counterproductive. When exercising in an external temperature higher than 15°C, the human body sweats to sufficiently cool down. But when the body periphery is extremely cooled before exercising, the process of temperature rising is also slowed down. This both saves energy and improves performance.

The study was executed in cooperation with an Australian (AIS) and a French (CERS) research institute as well as the Universität Münster and the clinics in Sendenhorst, Vlotho and Olsberg.

Ole Luennemann | alfa
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