Optimization of Performance and Health Program

One of the major interests of the Human Integrative and Environmental Physiology Laboratory is establishing criteria to help assess and improve performance and well-being. We focus on athletic populations and people in high-stress or extreme environments that demand optimal performance.

We have several studies aimed at optimizing performance in extreme conditions and improving health throughout the life span.

Cross-sectional study on healthy aging

In this study, we are investigating methods to make it easier to gather data about aerobic fitness level, which is one of the best predictors of all-cause mortality.

This study has three main goals:

  • Measuring maximal oxygen consumption. Because fitness centers can't perform maximal exercise tests to get maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), we want to compare the submaximal exercise tests that are performed at the Mayo Clinic Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center in Rochester, Minnesota, with maximal exercise tests performed in the lab to develop more-accurate equations for predicting VO2max from submaximal data.
  • Comparing cardiac autonomic function. Changes in cardiac autonomic function, measured as heart rate variability in response to different tasks and activities, may be linked to disease and disease status. We measure these changes to determine the impact of aging and sex on cardiac autonomic function.
  • Creating new fitness tests. We are developing a virtual (remote) fitness test using camera technology and algorithms to predict VO2max from submaximal step tests. This study is being conducted in 10 men and 10 women from each decade of life from ages 20 to 80.

Aging and pulmonary vasculature

Aging has profound effects on human physiology, and one often overlooked area is the effect on pulmonary vasculature.

Changes in pulmonary vasculature can lead to alterations in breathing efficiency and other patterns that may be modified by training. We are studying these mechanisms and how they can be adjusted to create a better quality of life at older ages.

AVOX: Aviation oxygen mask development and testing

In this project, we are studying whether oxygen flow in airline oxygen masks is sufficient for the altitudes at which they are used.

In the aviation industry, oxygen masks are fine-tuned to deliver precise amounts of oxygen to crew and passengers, if needed. The flow values and oxygen concentrations are determined empirically by testing while monitoring breathing patterns, oxygen saturation and exhaled gas concentration at critical altitudes. This testing allows us to determine whether the flow is sufficient for the corresponding altitude.

U.S. Air Force pilot health support

Current studies in the pilot health support project explore changes in cognitive function under various conditions, such as isometric exercise, hypobaria, low oxygen and increased carbon dioxide.

Study participants are monitored for multiple physiologic metrics and cognitive performance metrics. Our goal is to investigate which objective physiologic metrics can be associated with performance decreases and which could be used to power future warning systems.

In addition, our lab is engaged in an ongoing study of pilot performance and health at high altitudes and gravitational levels related to the grounding of the entire F-22 fighter aircraft fleet in 2011 because of possible oxygen system malfunctions. During that incident, we were involved in a massive effort to help assess what might have been happening to the pilots while in flight.

Project Everest

In 2012, Mayo Clinic, The North Face and National Geographic collaborated to carry out a scientific expedition to Mount Everest. The major aim was to understand how the body adapts to changes in elevation by studying possible cognitive changes and physiologic changes in the lungs and cardiovascular system.

Because of the continuous remote monitoring used in the project, a tremendous amount of data was collected. These data are still being analyzed and reported.

Project Kilimanjaro 1

The aim of Project Kilimanjaro 1 is to use the knowledge gained from the Mount Everest expedition and other high-altitude expeditions and focus intensely on cardiovascular function during elevation change.

Video game performance analyses

High-level competitive gamers perform at cognitive workloads and stress levels that are roughly equivalent to those of performers in fields such as aviation and transportation. This video game analysis project examines video game performance with eye-tracking technology and physiologic metrics.

The goal is to understand what differentiates high-level video game performers from their less skilled peers, and to learn how that knowledge can be used to improve performance in more traditional high-stress operational environments and in video game play.