SAB: What We’ve Learned From COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the health and wellness landscape globally and there’s no doubt its impact will create a new “normal”.

Our Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) members are always at the forefront of health and performance so we asked them: What’s been the most important/interesting learning you’ve experienced re health as a result of the COVD-19 pandemic, thus far? 

Below you’ll find the insights from leading human performance experts from Nike, Redbull and leading universities. 


BRAD WILKINS: The world has been operating near or beyond capacity; when systems (biological systems, ecological systems, social systems, etc.) have been overstretched the negative feedback and feedforward controllers can no longer keep up with the demand on the system, therefore a significant auto-correction is required. This correction reduces the strain on the system and allows things to "reset" for the overall health of its ability to function. 

Unfortunately, in this case, the correction came with an outcome of significant illness, death, and economic devastation; this has really highlighted the need to think about the health of the systems at work, our personal health, and the health of our society; physically, mentally, and economically. WE are required to give pause and learn the best path forward for our health and the health of the system.

Applying this observation to health, performance, and training; big "auto-corrections" usually come in the form of large injuries or illness when the "athlete's system" is overstretched for a period of time. The injury requires the athlete to re-think and take a different approach to their health and training. The goal would be to keep the system from being over-reached or over-trained in the first place. Allow significant strain on the system to recover appropriately, make sure athletes take care of proper nutrition, proper recovery, get enough sleep, and proper application of intentional training loads. When signs and symptoms of an over-stressed system are clear, take appropriate rest and recovery to decrease the risk of a significant "auto-correction" in the form of devastating illness and injury.”

About Brad:  For the last decade, Dr. Wilkins was an accomplished scientist at Nike, holding numerous scientific leadership positions. Most notably, Brad founded the Nike+ Sport Performance Laboratory.


ANDREW JONES: I’d say we’ve learned that health/life can be fragile; while inevitably our function will decline as we age, there are things we can do to mitigate these effects and which may provide some protection against future pandemics: e.g. exercise to enhance our cardiorespiratory fitness and metabolic health, and lifestyle choices including diet (to optimize muscle mass and body composition) and avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol, etc. Overall, we need to continue to prioritize our health to increase our resilience.

About Andrew: Andrew Jones Ph.D. is a Professor of Applied Physiology at the University of Exeter, UK. Prof Jones has published ~300 peer-reviewed scientific articles with >22K citations


PER LUNDSTAM: COVID-19 is forcing us to change how we communicate and socialize; as we have already seen, before the pandemic even happened, sports that are driven by digital platforms have an amazing outreach and are extremely relevant to the new generation of athlete - just take the rise in e-sports like Zwift and platforms like Strava. I believe we will continue to see huge growth in this space as people can use these flexibly at home and to connect in ways not possible before. 

Secondly, I believe that we have experienced a need to have a stronger understanding of how we initially analyze a tragic situation from a global perspective and push more resources into the initial phase of these epidemics before they turn into pandemics; for example, by using computerized modeling, and pre-calculations. I think that there will be opportunities for open source “games” in how to solve and track virus outbreaks in the future; there is so much talent around the world in terms of gamification strategies in computation modeling, etc. 

About Per: Per is currently the Director of Athlete Performance at Red Bull. He was formerly on the sports science leadership team for The US Ski & Snowboard Association.


BRETT KIRBY: I think we've reaffirmed that more often than not in life, there is more that we don't know than we do know; this certainly appears to be the case on COVID-19 specifically.  Give respect to the fact that things can shift on a dime; the game can change in an instant, a race crash, fumble, penalty kick, stomach upset, we never know, so we’ve always got to be ready.  Sport and life are akin - life shifts at any moment but if we play the game to the fullest we can be ready whatever circumstances show up. 

To translate this specifically to our health, then Ideally we work to develop a consistent foundation of health/immunity so if/when the unexpected hits come, we are resilient, and if they don't then there’s no love lost, we are better for it.  Chasing from behind is often tough, so it’s better to be proactive than reactive regarding our health and wellness. 

About Brett: Dr. Kirby is currently the Senior Scientist of the Human Performance Team in the Nike Sport Research Laboratory.    


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