Image via ABC.
A team of researchers from the University of Canberra and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) is investigating whether wearing compression clothing can increase the brain function of athletes.
It is widely accepted that compression garments can improve muscle power and strength, and also enhance recovery following hard exercise.
But physiologist Nathan Versey from the AIS said while the physical benefits of compression gear were well known, it is thought the clothes could also increase blood flow to the brain.
“[We’re looking at] whether wearing the compression garment specifically during an exercise bout, whether that increases the blood flow to the brain, and therefore alters brain function,” he said.
Assistant Professor Ben Rattray from the University of Canberra said that during extreme exertion, the decision-making ability of athletes can be significantly affected.
“We’re interested to know if increasing blood flow to the brain will actually help with that decision-making ability, when they’re exercising at those really high intensities,” he said.
“[That] could be important for our athletes in terms of a sporting performance when they’ve got to make a decisions.
“So it could be a team sport sort of thing where they’ve got to make decisions while competing, or you could transfer it across to a cycling event.
“[That is] having to make tactical decisions while out on the road.”
‘The brain is really a mystery box’
To determine if the compression garments increase cerebral blood flow, and therefore brain function, the researchers have spent the past few months performing cognitive tests on cyclists, as they undergo intense physical exercises.
Participants in the study are asked simple questions, while being pushed to exhaustion in a series of gruelling time trials.
The process is repeated, with the participant wearing hospital strength compression gear, commercially available compression clothes, and no compression garments at all.
“During the last few minutes of each increment, we get them to perform a cognitive test on the computer,” Assistant Professor Rattray said.
The theory that compression clothes could improve cerebral blood flow was sparked by cases of improved brain function in elderly people, after they had performed basic exercises 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,” Mr Versey said.
Assistant Professor Rattray said the results of the study were expected to be known before the end of the year.
“The brain is really a mystery box for all of us around the world trying to research it.”