Dr Joel Martin- Sleep and Fitness

Dr. Joel Martin joins me today for discussion on sleep and fitness and the effect of both on the tactical athlete. Dr. Martin is an associate professor of kinesiology at George Mason university. His research is focused on improving the fitness and health of the tactical athlete populations….. firefighters, police, and military. 

Side note…This is a rough edit of a show that previously failed to load appropriately. Any mistakes or audio glitches are to be blamed on me. Thanks for listening!

Dr Martin’s Links are



Stack: Welcome to a bonus episode of the things we all carry. Dr. Joel Martin joins me today for discussion on sleep and fitness and the effect of both on the tactical Dr. Martin is an associate professor of kinesiology at George Mason university.

His research has focused on improving the fitness and health of the tactical athlete populations, firefighters, police, and military is research has two specific aims first to understand current movement, abilities, and fitness levels of this population at various stages during

In addition to, he hopes to use the movement and exercise interventions to improve the overall health of the tactical athlete.

Dr. Martin also works in George Mason’s smart lab. Smart is an acronym for the sports medicine, assessment research and testing lab. . The smart lab vision is stated as striving to enhance the quality of life for all physically active individuals through the development and improvement of methods for the prevention recognition and treatment of injury and disease.

A quick reminder to help us build a community which not only recognizes, but supports each other through the struggles and recovery. Reach out through instagram @thethingsweallcarry or email mystory@thethingsweallcarry.com to offer support and share your story. Please remember to leave a review on itunes and give a shout out to any first responder you know love or care about y’all enjoy the show

. All right. So how are you feeling about ready here?

Joel: Yeah. Good to go.

Stack: Like I said, I’ll start with that introduction then I’ll let you run with it and we’ll get into the questions.

Joel: That works.

Stack: All right. So joining us today is Dr. Joe Martin. He’s from how George Mason university. That’s local to my fire department. He’s just up the road from me. He’s an associate professor of kinesiology at George Mason. He’s a member of the smart lab and that, that stands for sports medicine, assessment and research testing. And he’ll get into more of that and explain what they’re doing there. His interest for research. Revolve around health. Performance of emergency responders and. To that end. He’s been working kind of a cooperative effort with my county and for five years concerning health and fitness of the firefighters and first responders. How you doing Dr. Martin? Yeah.

Joel: Thanks for having me on the podcast, this is an honor to be asked to speak about some of the work we’re doing and probably bringing light to some of the. The issues that we’re addressing. In our research.

Stack: Yeah, I look forward to this conversation. It’s one that interests me and I hope it’s one to interest everybody in the audience because it’s going to impact them at some point in their career.

Joel: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I think a.

My background is I come from actually. Actually an engineering undergraduate degree. But then I was enjoyed. Working out and health and fitness. And I found that. A kinesiology, even more performance. Side was. Something I said more interest in. So I ended up going to, to grad school at Penn state and. The kinesiology program for. A master’s degree then. Really enjoyed my time there. So I stayed for a PhD. And then about 10 years ago, I came down here to. Northern Virginia. Accepted position at George Mason university and joined ours, our smart lab. And then that kind of spurred a lot of the current work that I’m doing. Which was some of the transition from my graduate work. Which was more motor control and looking at how people control their movements. But since joining the smart lab we have as a group, we have an emphasis on research that supports the community. And one of the groups I. Had an interest in was emergency. Responders, particularly firefighters. So I think. You probably, most listeners will understand this, but your, some of the challenges that you face are. Are quite unique and that you have to perform a lot of physical, strenuous tasks. And then you also have these other stressors, like sleep, which we’ll talk about environmental conditions. Sometimes you might have. Nutritional challenges too, that are all impacting your ability to do your jobs. And for me that was, it’s a big problem. Something that’s. Interesting for me to study from an academic standpoint, but also. On the nice. Probably most important thing. From the work that we’re doing is. There’s also a direct benefit to the emergency responders and the firefighters in our community.

Stack: Yeah, there’s definitely a direct benefit. And like I said, at the beginning, this is an, this is a subject that’s going to impact all of us at some point in our careers. If it hasn’t already. And hopefully it’s something that people can get ahead of and prevent or not prevent, but at least minimize the impact on their lives. I think the most, I obviously, I created questions based from a layman’s point of view and maybe a little bit more informed than a layman, but not And I submitted them in and you you went through them before we even started. So where do you I think the first question I had was How are nutrition, exercise and sleep? And codependent on each other.

Joel: Yeah. Yes. I think that’s a good place to jump in.

So initially when we started some of the work with. Local. Fire departments. Fitness was what I was really interested in. And especially. Or what aspects of fitness are most important for firefighters? Do you know common tasks? So we started a couple of products. One of them was we offered free movement and fitness Out of the lab. And so we had a number of individuals come in. Early on in our. Our research. I think we had a lot of. Important conversations with. Numbers as they were coming in. And one thing that kept coming up. Was some of the sleep challenges that they would say they were or talk about how they were. Tired and, or maybe something had happened in the last 24 or 40 hours that had Impacted Their sleep. Sometimes we had cancellations to, with, as Unexpected things We had them scheduled to come in for testing and they had to reschedule. I think the more we learned about some of the challenges faced through these conversations. We found that a. Just looking at fitness. Was it.

Was to narrow the focus. So one of the things that.

Spurred our interest is definitely the sleep. And there’s a lot of, not just the firefighters, but there’s clearly the research. These healthy lifestyle behaviors and the three that tend to rise up. Cause they’re. They’re interrelated. Our sleep. Nutrition. And exercise. Can Aspects of those that’s. She has a lot of attention. They are all modifiable factors in theory. And that the individual could. You can change your sleep, you change your diet and change your exercise. They’re also codependent on each other. So w what I mean by that is.

If you’re eating poorly that would negatively impact your. Probably ability to exercise is there. The certain nutritional demands that you need to. To exercise. And vice versa. For a lot of people, I would post their goals to lose weight or. Improve their body composition and then the diet and exercise. Become really important together because you need to be able to eat. Does. Sustain your. Your fitness goals. But then the third wheel there. Would be the sleep.

A lot of research. I could probably send some notes later on a few studies to look out on the impact of sleep Both diet and exercise. But one of the interesting things, and I’m sure everyone who’s listening can relate is if you’re sleeping you tend to make poor food decisions. So there a number of studies have shown that People who are sleep deprived. Will opt for higher cowl or calorie foods over healthier options. And then what happens is. If you’re sleep deprived, you don’t feel like exercising. So then. Not creates other problems. And especially with firefighters, when. The jobs are quite physical in nature. Anything that’s negatively impacting. Their fitness. Levels It needs to be addressed and looked at together with the fitness. Instead of independently,

Stack: So the question I have about the nutrition and if you’re sleep deprived and you’re making poor choices, you’re eating more calories, denser or sugar, denser, fat dense. Food. Is that kind of a throwback to genetics? Like trying to. Almost. Fight or flight type of thing if you’re not sure. And maybe a hunter gatherer, the. So you’re trying to, you’re trying to get as much calories in as possible because you’re not sure when

Joel: Yeah. I think that’s a really insightful way to look at it. Yes.

Sometimes the way I explain it in a.

class. I used to teach. I was if you think of your. Food intake as get getting paid your paycheck. If you have a um, You’re going to receive a regular paycheck and, after really. Worry or worry about not receiving that paycheck. Biweekly or however. Everyone gets paid. You’re probably. Aren’t as concerned about building up your savings as much, if you know that money’s gonna be coming in. But once the money is not coming out on a regular basis and you’re going to start saving. More money in building up your bank account. So your body does that with fat. So if you’re not. Eating quality foods on a regular basis. One of the. Protective mechanisms would be to store more body fat in the body’s very flexible or adaptable. And your metabolic rate can actually. Resting metabolic rate might decrease Compensate for not having that regular nutritional intake.

Stack: And I guess that’s, that kind of goes to the theory of, if you’re trying to lose weight, one of the best ways is to make sure you get enough calories.

Joel: All right.

Stack: Not to drastically limit your calories.

Joel: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Stack: Which seems foreign to some people. And they think that if they just eat. Very little then their body’s going to shed fat, but it quite often just holds onto it more.

Joel: Yeah. And I might even start using some of your muscle mass for energy to.

Stack: So of the three nutrition exercise and sleep. And I know there’s a co-dependence on each other. Is your thought process? That sleep is the heaviest influencer of the three.

Joel: That’s a good question. I think. They’re all really important. I one could

The case. Probably sleep is the most important. We’re one of the studies that we’re doing right now where involves giving the fitness intervention. Sometimes. The participants will ask all. Should I sleep an extra hour today or should I do the workout? Nine times out of 10 that we would tell them to. To get the sleep that they need. And skip the workout if they had to choose between one or the other. I

I think for most people. S this because sleep can influence so many other outcomes, not just sickness. Die. Also our moods and our mental health. Taking care of sleep is. I would prioritize that the highest out of. Probably out of the three.

Stack: Which is. Disturbing for first responders, especially firefighters with the way our sleep patterns are.

Joel: Yeah. Yeah. There’s a lot of challenges there for firefighters test to sleep well.

Stack: So what. And I know that we’re going to get into the, to the fitness piece because that’s something that you’re passionate about. Obviously. Firstly, alright, hit you with some questions about sleeping and hygiene and what is poor sleep hygiene. What’s that look

Joel: Yeah. Yeah. So sleep hygiene. I think a word that maybe is. Being used more, more often. Sometimes it can use. Interchangeably with like sleep health. It’s just a good sleep habits that are going to help to promote. Not just more sleep, but also higher quality sleep. So things like going to go into bed up. This consistent times and waking up at roughly the same time. Seven days a week. Not being on our cell phones or computers before going to sleep, things that are going to stimulate our. Our minds and keep us up. Sleeping in a. Room or environment with somewhat of a controlled temperature. So it’s not too hot or too cold. Obviously that would also. Disrupt our sleep habits. Those types of things. A lot of times, people will tend to focus on just the sleep quantity and there’s recommendations. We need seven to. Nine hours per night. So a lot of times people are focused on that, but some of these other things that would. Influence our sleep quality or just important to. To consider and it’s trying to optimize. One sleep.

Stack: Yeah, I think in the fire service we have a bit of the. We have a bit of the things we can’t control. We can’t control when a call comes in. If it comes in at two 30 or four in the morning, it comes in, we have to respond to it. But. We also do it to ourselves because then when we’re off duty, we don’t get the, we don’t set the setting appropriately for sleep and we don’t get the right amount of sleep. And then we throw in alcohol and. And it just it’s. We were self-destructive in that

Joel: Yeah. Oh, that’s a really good I forgot to touch on that yet. The alcohol Yeah, alcohol’s. There’s lots of lyrics that really show that really disrupts your sleep and the quality of sleep. And then I know the other thing that. Maybe you can also touch upon this, but the use of caffeine and energy drinks. Drinking. Large amounts of coffee throughout the day. That can also. And make it difficult to fall asleep when you are able to. To find some time to sleep.

Stack: Somewhere out there. There’s a bunch of people that know me that are just shaking their heads and laughing because they know how much caffeine I consume. And it’s, it is a bad thing and it’s something I’m very cognizant of. I just haven’t made that change yet. So that’s a very valid point and it’s one that we see all the time, because. And you look into any refrigerator in a fire station, and there’s going to be multiple energy drinks in there. And there’s always a fresh pot of coffee brewing at the firehouse.

Joel: Yeah. Obviously there’s probably some good reasons. For that? I think. Maybe just being mindful of how much is consumed in terms of the caffeine intake. And maybe when it’s consumed. As well on we’re actually we’re visiting a local. Firehouse recently and they were about to do some training drills and. They’re joking around about, drinking. The monster energy drinks before the training drills and. I guess my sense is my outside. Send from what I’ve seen is. This is part of the culture. And I know those can, things can be. Difficult to change.

Stack: And it’s a, it’s an addiction. Caffeine Let’s be honest. It’s that is an addiction. It’s one of the more addictive drugs out there. So it’s also performance enhancing to a point, but it can also cause some issues.

Joel: Yep. Yeah, definitely.

Stack: How do you start to recognize poor sleep hygiene in somebody or how can one recognize it in themselves?

Joel: Probably some simple ways to recognize it would just be constant, constantly feeling tired and fatigued and run down. I think that would One point the issue with sleep quantity is that. We all have different sleep needs. We probably all know some people who they need, their nine hours of Per night and than other people. Function pretty well on much less than that. So I think it’s. And this is one of the challenges that makes it hard to study from a research standpoint. And some of these. Individual differences in what. And what you need. But probably certainly. How you’re feeling if you’re always feeling tired and run down. That would be a good indicator. And then from there’s some other measures that you could start to look Th maybe start to, to actually quantify your sleep and then you can make changes and see how It impacts. Your feelings of fatigue and tiredness.

Stack: Yeah. And think that we’re all chronically tired and fatigued. Our schedule is for lack of a better word. Our schedule is shit. And then we add in our sleep. And so it’s. It’s something that we all need to take it a second and recognize. And like I said, we need to make our changes on Because we can’t make our changes too much on the inside. And outside of work and inside of work. And I know that. Second and third shift of a tour. You can see it in people’s faces and you can hear it in their voices. And you just know if, especially if the first shift is one of those where you get your teeth kicked Second and third shift or you’re you’re toast for the rest of that tour.

Joel: Yeah.

Stack: So speaking of that, We do get poor sleep. So there’s, I know there’s physical and cog cognitive effects of poor sleep. And you hear this? I don’t know if it’s cliche. I don’t, I know there’s some science behind it that you can equate. Lack of sleep. Basically driving under the influence.

Joel: Here. Yeah. I’ve heard of. I’ve seen the research on that. And. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I know that there’s been. Some research studies where they’ve you. They’ve measured different aspects of physical or cognitive function. Compare it to people were intoxicated and. Frightful or. It was scary that the measures are pretty similar in And a lot of ways being. Sleep deprived. Is comparable to being under the influence of

Stack: And I first came to know of you through one of those. Sleep study. You had a research you had done. And it was it was a published paper and I’m going to link to that in the show notes. When I released the show, But from that study, what did you take away from that?

Joel: Yes. Yeah, maybe I’ll explain. A little bit of the background behind that study. And then what type It was too. So I think there’ll be. Important for the audience to. To understand. When we had started doing some of this fitness testing and, we were realizing how important sleep was. Of course we wanted to do a study on but we we hit some challenges with actually implementing. Study where we collected sleep data on firefighters. Locally. Is it just. This is also around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. So there was most of our research got. Put on hold for the time being. So what we ended up doing was we did a systematic review of. published studies that looked at the effects of sleep on physical cognitive performance, as well as just firefighter health. So a systematic review is. And methological approach to finding previously published studies within certain. Inclusion executing criteria. So we wanted. All included studies to be with professional firefighters. And they had a report, some type of relationship or effect between. Sleep that was measured in either physical or cognitive performance and so we, we searched a number of different databases and identified articles. Our inclusion criteria. And then.

Synthesize them into the study that we had published. I think officially, yeah, it came out last but we’re. We’re working on it a lot in 2020 in the first half of 2021. So we found 15 studies that met our inclusion criteria. The total sample of all the firefighters included in all these studies was about 1600 firefighters. And what we found when we. Took all the results from this. Those togethers. Probably not surprisingly that sleep had a Negative impact on cognitive function. And I guess when I say cognitive function That could mean a few different things and. Basically all these were negatively impacted, but things like just your attention to what’s going on in your surroundings. Decision-makings like speed of decision-making reaction time. Poor sleep, negatively impacts all of those things. And then there were also some other health metrics that were. Reported in the studies that we included. So things like. Cardiovascular function Obesity. Body fat percentage. Sleep tended to have a negative impact on those there. With firefighters. There were very few studies actually that looked at some sort of relationship between sleep and physical performance. Which was. Somewhat surprising to us. The few studies that were published. Didn’t necessarily find that there, their physical performance was impaired. But the Tuesday is oil looked at acute sleep deprivation.

So it was all, so it was only like in Sleeping poorly for one night. Getting less than I think it was four hours asleep. There’s other research in athlete populations in general populations that, that also show that. Louis in terms of physical performance. A lot of times, if it’s just one A bad sleep. You can still perform. Not maybe necessarily any differently. Physically. And one day asleep, but we started looking at chronic poor sleep. That’s when you start seeing the negative effects of chronic poor sleep on physical performance. But again, there, there just, hadn’t been studies published on looking at that and in firefighter populations,

Stack: And how do you define chronic What makes it chronic, other than I understand it’s more than one night, but.

Joel: Yeah. So usually it’s at least a week of poor sleep. Being sleep deprived there’s some different. Objective measures or definitions of sleep deprivation. But most of what I’ve seen would be less than four hours of sleep for about a week in And you start getting to the chronic. Poor quality sleep.

Stack: And. Is there a delineation between Sleep deprivation. And maybe this phenomenon that we experienced, this first responders have disrupted sleep or It is disrupted and it’s also. I don’t know, it’s you sleep with a, with an anticipation, so maybe anticipatory You’re just waiting for that call to come. As any. Has anyone ever looked at that?

Joel: Yeah, I know there’s been a couple of studies that looked at, so one of the. The events, I guess that’s easy too. Kind of quantify his call volumes you have the alarm going off in the firehouse. And how number of. Alarms or calls. impact sleep. And obviously there’s a negative relationship. Between that and. And sleep quality.

I think one of the challenges that researchers run into is approval to S to study, sleep with firefighters because. I think we all know that it’s a problem. And a lot of. Fire departments probably don’t necessarily want the magnitude of the problem. Quantified and reported. So that’s I think that’s a challenge. And that a lot of researchers run into. And trying to quantify the sleep. A couple of studies that were in the review. They actually used wild land firefighters. They And often they had in the morning, some type of wearable device to measure their sleep over. A tour when they’re out. Outworking.

Stack: Yeah. It’s. That disruptive sleep is such a weird thing for firefighters, especially. And it would be, I wished that a department would be forward enough thinking to say, Hey let’s do this. Let’s put a wearable on each of our firefighters or maybe just the shift one shift of If you’ve got a, B and C shift, maybe a shift does it for six months just to see what a shift experiences. And I think that it would be first of all, I know it would be shocking or maybe it wouldn’t be shocking, maybe it’s exactly what they think they would find. And like you said, maybe they’re just too afraid to do it.

Joel: Yeah. Yeah.

Stack: Which is a shame because we all know how sleep affects us. Affects us longer down the line with it being considered a carcinogen in basically. And some in many circles.

Joel: Yeah, I think there’s definitely need for doing. Some longitudinal studies like that, where we track a group of firefighters and start to look at some of the different factors that. probably you all probably know better than I do, but their influence their sleep. They be like, You know what station they’re at? Is he going to busier stations, less busy stations. Some of the. Differences in culture, maybe within Istation. And other things that were going to influence. Sleep. The culture around tracking these individuals for. Not just weeks, but probably months, maybe even years of possible. And then I guess. Putting on my research hat, just, understanding. These longitudinal changes, then we know. Also looking at how many years of service a firefighter might have in starting to correlate some of. Maybe the negative health changes with some of these sleep measures that we’re seeing to try to. Really identify how. How much of it impacts sleep has, and some of the. The health consequences that firefighters are. Are experiencing.

Stack: Yeah, it would be, to me, it would be fascinating to see that study. And I would actually, and from a, I dunno, from. I don’t want to use the word troublemaker, but from a trouble-maker standpoint, I’d like to see what the reaction from fire to fire departments would be and how they would they modify what they do with their firefighters? I don’t know. And maybe that’s also part of it. They just know that there’s nothing that they’re going to be willing to do. And that makes me a little nervous. So to get a study done with is obviously the

Joel: Yeah. I would. I know sometimes. There’s financial implications for doing or not doing something.

Stack: Yes.

Joel: I wouldn’t suspect that if you start looking at some of the insurance payouts others, sleeps, contributing injuries and. Some of the other health issues. They would probably actually be a substantial cost savings than. Long run. If you look over a long enough time period for. Doing some things to really address the poor sleep that firefighters are experiencing.

Stack: Yeah, I agree with that. It’s it would definitely be a longterm cost savings, but the cost upfront is what scares the immediate supervisors and political leaders. And they’re not thinking long-term for us. They’re just, they’re thinking. How do they make it look like their budget is better than it was a year before. Yeah. And that’s why I won’t get on that soap box because that’s a tall one for me to climb up on and I’ll leave it be for right now. Not only are we getting bad sleep or none of these are sleep disrupted, but we’re on a shift work. And so our schedule is always changing. It’s the same, but it’s always changing. If that makes sense. In general. In a general population. How does shift work affect people? How does it affect the body? Can a body adapt to the shift

Joel: I think there’s some amount of adaptation that can occur. Andy. Some shifts are worse than other. We think about our circadian rhythms. And when we’re naturally awakened and naturally asleep. Th the second and third shifts when our bodies would prefer to be sleeping. Those are where you guys see the. Probably the, if. Worst health consequences. For working those shifts. I think then. What’s occurring outside of work too, is also going to be the important to consider. So if someone’s working on third shift, And then they come home and they have family and kids and. They’re trying to spend time with their kids during the day, and that’s probably. The time when Are able or would be able to sleep because they’re not working. They’re going to have some additional challenges

Stack: And just, I’m sorry, just to be clear. When you say third shift, do you mean the night shift?

Joel: Yeah. The night

Stack: Because in, in our parlance, we’re thinking the third shift of a tour. And that’s, I just wanted to clarify for people might be thinking that as well.

Joel: Yup. Yeah, that’s what I meant the night shift.

Stack: Yeah. And yeah, those guys are coming home and they’re not getting their sleep when they. During the day when that’s, they’re expected to get to sleep, then they’re going back to work that, that then you’re up 36 hours. Yeah.

Joel: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a. So that’s to be harder. Hard to function when you. When you returned to work with them. Slept in between the shifts.

Stack: Yeah, not only hard to function when you returned to work, but let’s be real. It’s hard to function when you’ve returned to home. The following day again and maybe you’re expected to do exactly what you did the day before, but your body’s your body and your mind aren’t there. And you’re gonna, you’re gonna have a break at some point. You need to have that rest.

Joel: Yeah. Again, this is outside my scope of area, but I know there’s a lot of. Probably family issues that come up with individuals working these different shifts with her. They’re not home or they feel pressured to. Probably stay up and, Rightfully Salba. He engaged with her. Their families and their kids and 10 other family events. It

is really great. Some challenges to try to, I think do everything. Work-wise and family-wise. And also take care of yourself in the process.

Stack: Yeah, it’s tough. Obviously. It’s tough for anybody in this. I can only shift work I’ve worked is. In a fire service. So it’s. I said all I can speak of and it’s stuff to come home after a long night and actually try to function as a human being again.

Joel: Yeah.

Stack: trying to go through these questions. I have written down. A lot of them had been touched on as we, as you just talked and we’ve gone back and forth. What are some ways that a first responder, especially a firefighter can improve their sleep in in, or out of the station. Yeah. I know that the, some of the obvious that you’ve mentioned already controlling that environment. And maybe it just touch on that again. How can we do that in the firehouse.

Joel: Yes. I think. I know some firehouses do this, but if you have rooms that are dedicated to sleep that were. They’re dark You can use blackout curtains. We have a two year old daughter. That’s something that we’ve learned to implement quite well. Either a hole or when we’re traveling places, but blackout curtains. Yeah. Controlled temperatures.

AC in the room or maybe he, if it’s cold. I think. Naps can actually be really good too. So if there’s, opportunity to take. Short naps. So scan. Help to combat some of the. The sleep deprivation issues are coming up. I probably just another approach that some departments have taken. Because again, they don’t. I may not have a lot of financial resources, but just the sleep education part. I can firefighter as aware of. What is good sleep hygiene, the importance of sleep for doing their jobs. I think that could be a initial step, that a lot of fire departments can take that there’s not a lot of. Financial costs loose. Lisa’s associated with.

Stack: It’s I’m lucky in the sense that I The firehouse that I’m in now is one of the newer ones. And so It has private bunk rooms. And I think that’s, that should be the future of the fire service, the individual bunk rooms. The tones and the lights that don’t jar you awake, even though waking up at one in the morning, jars you awake, no matter what. But the man, the manner in which you’re woken up, it makes a difference as well.

Joel: I was talking with a fire chief a couple of weeks ago. And think he was telling me about the the alert system that they changed to where. I get you’ll probably know better than me, but when there’s a call that comes in and goes out to all the firehouses. Versus I think there was a ways. Or it was more focused and didn’t wake everyone up so to speak.

Stack: We use a west net system and it only alerts the, it only alerts the units that need to go on that call. Especially at night, you can set the, you can set your alert system within your bunk room to only alert for if you’re on the truck. It only alerts for the truck. So you’re not getting woken up by, medic calls or engine calls and vice versa. They can do the same. And most of the houses have that. Now it just depends on. Is it an older house where everybody’s in a communal bunk room anyway. And it really doesn’t matter if you can set your tones because you have everyone in there already. Or if you’re in one of the new stations like myself, where you have an individual bunk room and you can specifically set it just for your unit. And you’re not hearing anything really, except for maybe shuffling in the hallway. So it’s, some of us are spoiled and I think that needs to be the future of the department or of the

Joel: No, he, yeah, he was saying that just kinda. Anecdotally, it’s made a huge difference in the, over the past year, since they’ve implemented

Stack: Yeah. And again for us, it’s. It makes a difference at night. So you’re not waking up for everybody’s calls. And Again, going back to the individual bunk rooms. You can escape there during the day and actually get a peaceful nap. If that’s what you need to do. And, it’s a game changer, to be honest with you. All right. Let’s see. We do talk, you touched on wearable devices briefly, and I think they’re important. I know most of the actually it’s becoming, it’s a growing thing amongst my crew because they’re all comparing their Garmin nowadays and their body batteries. And so I have a, I wear a Garmin and it tracks my sleep, but I also wear a whoop and it tracks my sleep as well. And so it’s very interesting because you can see the ups and downs from on a nightly basis. And then you can extrapolate that out two weeks a month. But then you can also see the effect of a call on the body immediately. You go from 40 beats a minute in bed to 152 beats a minute on the fire scene. It, and that’s in a matter of two to three minutes. It’s a jarring effect. One of the things I think is interesting about wearable devices is. Do you ever see that as a tool at some point where maybe it’s a fit for duty assessment? So you can track your metrics and they can, they. Department can look at those metrics and go wait a second. We’re seeing some, we’re seeing some serious issues here.

Joel: Yeah, I think that could be a great application of it. There’s a sports teams have been doing similar. Similar things for a long time now. And Not just with firefighters. I think some of the other tactical populations borrowed some of the. The frameworks that they’ve used in higher level sport for monitoring. Athlete performance and recovery. We have a lot of add a lot of value to firefighters and. Yep. Probably assessing their state of readiness or. Time, early prediction or early alert to. Potential health problems. And yeah, like you were saying that there’s so many wearables now that are. They are fairly good accuracy. Or actually probably reliability is more important. Just look at one person and you’re an attractor. Or changes over time. You’ve ordered validity and reliability. So validity would be. How well. The device agrees with, say, you’re looking at sleep and how many hours do you sleep versus, the true value. And then reliability is how. How consistent the measurements would be. A lot of times. Sport. Instead of just looking at what the actual values is looking at how consistent. Someone. Is overtime. Whether it’s sleep or main physical activity. And then when you start seeing these large changes, So these definitely. Girlfriend’s sleeping seven hours a night, two, they got two hours last night. That would. B. Be a concern or one of the things that did come out The paper. In regards to sleeping. Who’s actually physical activity is that. When the firefighters are sleep deprived, their physical activity measures dropped quite a bit. Which. One of our conclusions was that. Looking at Physical activity. Could be a surrogate measure for sleep as well. It makes sense. When you think about that, you’re sleep deprived and you’re probably just your physical activity levels, how much you’re walking around. You’re gonna, you’re gonna see a sudden decrease I know when I’m tired, I just feel like. Sitting around and do as much walking around and playing with our daughter. The dogs around the house. But I do think that. Integrating more the wearables. And maybe it’s started with firefighters using them individually. And. Tracking. Their sleep and physical activity and some other. Other relevant measures could be a good starting point. At some point. Some of the, I think some of the fire departments might want to look at, if you have a health and wellness coordinator or a strength conditioning coach. There’s ways in which they could have a software platform. And they’re able to see the data from. I guess everyone who has one of these wearables on their staff. quickly. See on the screen, if there’s any sudden changes in sleep or physical activity or other. Other measures that might be important for determining whether or not someone’s in a state of readiness to do the. The tasks that they might be called upon to do.

Stack: Yeah. And I know that when I make mention of a wearable and wearing, having it on firefighters, and then you doing fit for duty. And I know people out there are probably screaming at me. Like they don’t want the intrusion. And I understand that. But I think that the metrics that you get from a wearable. Are way too important to ignore. And I think the fire departments, it’s a simple way of fire departments tracking. How healthy their firefighters are.

Joel: Yeah, no, I totally

Stack: Let’s be honest. We’re not healthy.

Joel: No, there’s definitely some challenges. The areas opportunities to improve. I’ll put it that way.

Stack: Speaking about opportunities to improve. The next thing I was going to ask you is some common sense changes departments could implement to help with just this just concentrate on sleep before we even get to fitness.

Joel: Yes, I think Maybe it starts with the leadership and Just. Valuing sleep and taking whatever steps they can to promote. Sleep hygiene and encouraging firefighters to. To get the sleep that they need. Again, I think going back to our server. Our conversation today. There’s quite a bit of research that shows that if you’re not sleeping well your dots can be poor. So we know. There’s a lot. Within the. The fire departments. There’s a lot of obesity and cardiovascular concerns. And then as far as doing a lot of the. The occupational task. There’s definitely a fitness component to that as well. Again, if you’re not sleeping, you’re not gonna exercise and you’re is, can negatively impact your. Your fitness. So I think. Having some.

Some leadership that definitely values sleep. And promotes it is one way. I think making. It’s as you mentioned to this small changes around the stations where individuals are able to. To sleep and, Proper environment. It’s something else that could be done. The Navy, just a.

There’s this.

You all work pretty closely with each other and you can probably identify with someone else’s is sleep deprived. Maybe.

Encouraging. The individual to. If they look really tired to. Make sure they prioritize sleep in the next few days to. Get back to a better state of. Restfulness.

Stack: I actually saw an interesting interaction the other day and I was at a different station for a couple of minutes, making a visit in there. The there was a firefighter there and she was exhausted. You could see it written all over her face and she’d had a hell of a morning and a hell of a night. And he was just one of those days where she knew she, she had to be at work. She couldn’t really call in sick because of. Numerous issues. And on our way out, I heard the chief say to her, The only thing you’re assigned to do this afternoon is to finish the lunch and then to go take a nap. And that’s a huge change in and of itself right there, because. There’s still this prevailing attitude of, oh, we don’t need this sleep. This is what we do. We power through. We man up for lack of a better word. And then if you’re not, if you can’t hang then what’s wrong with you. But for that chief to, to recognize what she needed and to He did he prioritize it? He said, that’s what I want you to do. So not only prioritize it, but it gave her permission. To be comfortable with that idea of just going and taking a And. That mindset is what we need. We need firefighters and officers did that realized that you’re no good to us. If you’re tired. And it’s not a bravado thing to stay up as long and as late as possible.

Joel: No, it’s it makes me happy to hear that. Not happened.

Stack: Yeah, it was, I was happy to hear it as well. And I just, it’s something that needs to be pointed out and applauded more often because I think more leaders need to realize that’s what’s best for your people is what’s best for your department. So I think we’ve beat sleep down. I will beat it to death a little bit. There. So I know we were going to talk about some role, the fitness and the ability to perform, And this is your, this is your specialty, cause I know what you’ve been doing with our department. So maybe you want to explain that process and then we can get into what you mentioned. You wanted to talk about with the. Fitness testing.

Joel: Yeah, sure. So that’s probably what initially got me interested in this. Is. As a firefighter. You do such a variety of tasks and there’s all these different areas of fitness that are. Important to do Firefighting task. There’s. There’s aerobic fitness. I know there’s a recommended video to about 42 for the V2. But there’s also, you have to lift heavy objects and have you people. So you need to have a certain amount of strength and able to do that. And a lot of the. The task there. Require high levels of upper body muscle or fitness as well. So lifting and moving objects repeatedly. So one of the On the areas that we got into was just doing these fitness assessments and trying to. Figure out what are normal levels of these different areas of fitness for firefighters? We also do some movement assessments, too. So there’s. The different movement screens that are used in, our field of exercise science Kind of watch how people do basic movements like squatting and. Balancing. And moving the arms to try to. Trying to see what the overall. Movement quality is not just flexibility. But looking at how you. One might perform. Let’s calm. These is multi-joint movements. They’re going to be. One of the areas is also reducing that we’re interested in is reducing injury risk. And are there. Movement screens or fitness tests that are

Associate with. Higher levels of injuries. So that’s one. Area that we’re into. I was. And there’s some challenges too, with what tasks might be implemented within a fire department. Hang on resources. And what equipment you have is the most, the test that we do now, or a. Don’t require a lot of equipment. They might be bodyweight. But that the challenge that comes in is assessing muscular strength. We started to look at something called the isometric mid dipole. And which individual that basically pull on a fixed bar. Let’s see how much. To lift up. So it’s like doing a dead lift to see how much. Forced to able, they’re able to produce.

Stack: you’re lifting from the floor.

Joel: Yeah. So it’d be like a bar that’s attached to. The floor structure on the floor. That’s With dummy drags and, the average person is getting a lot. What have we are nowadays.

Stack: Yup.

Joel: That that’s becoming increasingly important for firefighters in. Kind of the low back pain is quite common among firefighters. So I Trying to lift. Someone or something heavier than your you’re able to lift. Can obviously. Cause a back injury. That’s. One area that we’re interested in right now. And something else that we’ve added on. So we started by just offering these movement and fitness tasks and we’d give some general recommendations to the individuals who came in for testing. We’re now starting to offer. Actually eight week exercise programs to follow up. Based on what we see in the fitness testing results. We give. These participants exercise programs to follow, and then we would do the post testing to see. Whether or not, there’s been positive changes in these different areas of fitness. And we’re doing the. We’ve been. Delivering the program is online. Because we know that one of the challenges The fire departments work too. Have a health and fitness specialist, which you know, some do now, but some don’t would be Being able to actually travel around, reach everyone to. Do fitness testing. Getting the exercise programs. Having some type of online or virtual delivery of the program. Seems to Have some. Benefits in terms of actually being able to deliver Now one person can reach. A larger number of firefighters when. County or department. So that’s, that would be another project that we’re. We’re currently working on right now to see if. If it’s. Effective with firefighters.

Stack: And what kind of changes are you seeing first, before we get to changes? What are you seeing? Fitness wise? Because I know you’re specifically talking. I believe this is what you told me. Last time we spoke is specifically with one county. Correct? Prince William county. What are you finding with the P of the participants you’ve had. What’s the fitness level been like?

Joel: It has been. We had some participants who were encouraged to participate in the program and they had Slightly lower levels of finished. So they knew they wanted to improve their fitness. A lot of them were in terms of like muscular fitness or It was. It was where it needed to be. But some of the other measures like body composition and aerobic fitness work. Lower than what we would’ve liked to see for something occupational.

Task. And then, but then we had another group who it was just purely gone. Volunteer. I think that biased who volunteered a bit and they. They tend to be a bit fitter cause they were. There were into the health and fitness and want to come in for some of the testing. So again, they were some of those other measures that were lower in the first group. They were a bit higher in the second group, especially the body count or. Not hot, but better. The second group there. Body composition in a VO two. The one thing that we’ve noticed now from implementing the eight week programs is that. There’s a lot of challenges to actually hearing the programs. So we, because we have through the software, were you using theirs? Constant communication. There’s just. A lot of things that come up that might throw off the schedules and mix it. Difficult for flight of our fliers to. Follow a consistent workout schedule and that there. What we’re finding is that we need to sometimes adapt like how many workouts are doing per week based on events that happen. They’re outside of their control. Or sometimes they might start working out and then all of a sudden they get, they have to go on a call. So their workout goes from It was going to be 45 minutes or so. It’s also, there’s only 15 minutes. There’s Definitely things that we’re learning as we. As we go through this. I think there’s also been some successes too, in that. It seems that a lot of the individuals. Who were engaged in the online exercise programs are, do like it. And it allows us to. Communicate with them and because we can Video demonstrations of the exercises through the software and they can actually record themselves. Instead of sending back to us. It’s allowing us to, to reach quite a few. And. I do think that the overall, the adherence or adherence rates have been pretty good. Realist part.

Stack: Is there a plan to take this outside of just one county? Or one department.

Joel: We would like.

Stack: and what’s the barrier to that.

Joel: Yeah, we would like to. So right now the biggest barrier is. Probably our personnel resources. And that. For the most part, we’re internally funding this project through. Money or. There’s some small financial costs associated with us. That Mason has some resources to support, but probably the other one would be our time. How much time that we can. I dedicate to the project. Based on, some of our other. Responsibilities we have with teaching classes and.

Stack: Yeah, cause you’re obviously still a professor at the university.

Joel: Yeah. There’s other things I need to get done. So we’re. We’re pursuing external funding. To support this project on a larger scale, which should allow us to. Higher in. They’d be research assistant. So these are their graduate students. And they could dedicate. 20 hours a week or so that this project in. Hopefully we could expand to. To other counties within Northern Virginia region. And I’m also trying to work with some other colleagues in other cities around the country, too. They have some of their own projects going on too, setting up multi-center. The studies and we’re reflecting some of the data in different places that allow us to. Investigate some of the. The contextual factors that might be influencing outcomes with. With work in the fire That ultimately we can kind Either the fitness testing that could be tailored to a fire department. Or some of these extra size bunch. Interventions as well.


Stack: And in coordination with this there’s has to be something about mandatory fitness at some point in these fire departments. And I know some departments have it, a lot department departments don’t have it. What are your thoughts

Joel: Yes. So we’ve. I’ve talked to some fire departments. And some that don’t have For face value. I think it, I think is good there. What I’ve seen is the, the policies or approaches about how you implement it are. Need to be thought through. So I guess generally there’s. There’s a couple of ways you could go about it. You could. There could be some rewards for people who. Firefighters who are meeting or exceeding the fitness standards or. I guess there could be. Punishment.

Stack: Oh, there’s that word? That the fire departments don’t want to hear when it comes to physical

Joel: Yeah.

Stack: Yeah.

Joel: Yeah. I think that

Th there needs to be some standards because the tasks are. Asked to perform. There’s obviously a physical requirement to, I don’t know if you have to. Lift and move. A person or. A certain distance. You have to have some amount. Let’s try to do climbing up the stairs, there’s some amount of lower body endurance and VO two that’s needed. So I think. Not having any standards is probably not the best approach. And I think it would also encourage because we know that. Some of these other factors such as sleep diet or going to. Probably work against firefighters over the course of their career. Having some fitness standards might. Likely counteracts that. I know there’s one fire department who has implemented mandatory. Fitness testing and. They’re seeing. If you look at from year to year they’ve they’re. I’ve seen positive changes in the fitness tests that they’ve included. You can conclude that The fire department is. At least not going to worse. And it looks like they’re getting slightly. Slightly Fetter every year.

Stack: That’s positive. That’s definitely positive. What what other research areas are you? Are you concentrated on nowadays?

Joel: Yeah. There’s. This would be Outside of just firefighters, but there’s a lot of interest This idea of operational readiness. And how do you predict whether or not someone’s operational? You’re ready to. To do their job. There’s.

We’re working in a couple of groups and looking at different measures for. Assessing physical readiness and then cognitive readiness to, and, most. Most emergencies, responder positioning need to have some amount with both of those. And Mike. It might depend on what.

What your role is within. In the unit. So obviously there’s wearables that can give us some. Some measures. More and more Other biomarkers. There spent a lot of interest recently in. Biomarkers that might be in our saliva that would indicate whether or not someone’s in a state of readiness to perform their. Their tasks. The things like Corozal could be elevated someone’s stressed going back to sleep, there’s probably. Changes in. Hormones. That could indicate that someone is sleep deprived. So there’s another things too. Hydration is another. Another factor that can make someone not operational ready. If you’re dehydrated. So there’s. We’re in talks with a couple of groups about how we might conduct a study around those I think one of the sticking points is. We have to be able to find operationally ready, which is. Not And how, and what do we measure to determine someone’s operationally ready?

Stack: Yeah, That’s a delicate question. Isn’t it.

Joel: Yeah, it’s. It turns out it’s. There really hasn’t been defined if you people are they’re different. Definitions. What is operationally ready?

Stack: If you had your, if you had your way, what would the definition of operationally ready be?

Joel: So I think it’s. It’s not so much about. The upper limits of your current capabilities. So I’ll give an example. So if someone was extremely fit and they could. Bench press 400 pounds and they W have high VO, two max. They could run a mile and, in the five minutes. They’re very fit. So you’d, you would assume that they’re. Able to probably do physical tasks. The study. If you throw in that they’re sleep deprived, they haven’t slept in two I haven’t eaten anything in maybe they’re dehydrated, even though they’re super And that state they’re not operational ready. Is it more and more? We’ve been looking at some of. There he. We have some concept factors about someone’s who made their fitness. And overall just general looking at. These acute stressors that are going to next on. Parishional ready. I think going back to. I want to have a bit of a sidetrack I’m looking Someone’s maybe. Current state and whether. Not, they had the minimum capacity to do certain tasks. And then. At the time there’s different types. Tasks. I think you have to. Consider what, like what percent of a task is physical versus what’s cognitive and. What’s the percentage of each of those. To try to F. Figure out someone’s operation. Right.

I think it’s defining what’s the minimum.

Necessarily levels of whatever’s important for doing those And then, whereas the person relative to At some sort of. Safety standard or there. There’s some amount The minimum threshold. They don’t, I don’t know if they necessarily have to be. There’s more benefits. And them being maximally fit Or Or in terms of the cognitive abilities as

Stack: Is it possible to still get into the, into your program?

Joel: Yep. We’re actively recruiting participants. I think it’s a product that we want to. Keep going for years. So if anyone is interested Participate in the program. Although we’d have to do would be to. Email me, then we would get them scheduled to. To come in and start with. With our baseline assessment.

Stack: And how do they how do they reach out to you? How do they get in touch

Joel: So email is the best My email is J M a R T. I. 38 at GMU. Dot EDU. So I can also send it to your name and put them in the show notes.

Stack: Yeah, definitely. Whatever links you want. I’ll throw into the show notes and that way people can go to that to the page and just download it or not download the copy and find you.

Joel: Yep. Yeah, that’d be great.

Stack: I have two questions. I ask all my guests. And I’m surprising you with it, cause I forgot to mention it to you. So I’m sorry. It’s been one of those mornings around here. As we talked about before it came on. It came on air, lack of a I, the reason I termed, I called the show, the things we all carry it’s based off of a novel by Tim O’Brien. It was called the things they carried. It was a novel set in Vietnam. And this platoon. It was it was about a platoon and he would describe what they took in the battle, but they also, he also described what they brought out of battle, so that, so the trauma and the scars and the emotional baggage, he brought out of battle. So that’s why I call this show the things we all carry, because we’re all coming out of these fires and medical calls with some kind of baggage. So one of the questions I’d like to ask guests is something about an everyday carry something. They just carry on their body or in their person throughout the day that you feel naked when you’re without it.

Joel: Yeah, I think so. I think for me, it’s probably.

Probably my wedding ring. Me and my wife a few years ago, and we had our daughter. Two years ago. That’s. That’s something that always. I’m always thinking about. And I think a lot of Decisions I’m making weather. Work decisions like what to engage in or what not to engage in or, other. Behaviors I’m doing it just comes back to me. And just thinking about what’s best for. For them and in our family.

Stack: And I’m going to jump on top of, I’m gonna ask another question according to things you might carry. Do you wear a wearable right now?

Joel: I do. It’s funny story. I’m we’re pilot testing a study I’ve have a wearable on. That’s on my grad students is going to get the data off of it at the end of the week. And we’re looking physical activity and sleep. Over. We said, we’re hoping to do it with a fire department here soon. So I have 10 pilot testing it. And on the questions that we have were. Whereas meshing with him before we got on the call this morning was. If we look at firefighters and we have them self report, their. Physical activity and sleep. What’s the agreement between what we can objectively measure.

Is it that’s one of the. I think the questions that we have there’s. One, there was one say that came out in comparing self-reported sleep to actual sleep. From a wearable. Earlier this year in firefighters and they sound that found that there was a fairly big disagreement between the two.

Stack: And w what do you subscribe that disagreement to.

Joel: I guess maybe if you’re, if you’ve been sleeping. Poorly. Longmont. Times. The of the chronic poor sleep quality Maybe you just don’t know that you’re. You’re not sleeping while you’re perceived that you’re sleeping more than you actually are.

Stack: So that sleep deprivation has become your natural state somewhat. Interesting. Yeah, I can see that. Cause you wouldn’t even know that you’re tired until you’ve actually finally get rested.

Joel: Yeah. Or if you’re around other people who are tired all the time, too, that you might just. I just come to accept that’s normal.

Stack: I think there’s about 700 plus of us in prince William county that did come to accepted as normal, except for the few that, that. It can roll with the punches there, but I think we’re all chronically tired All right. So the other thing I like to ask my guests I asked for a book recommendation, something you’ve read recently or something that you’ve read a few times that over your lifetime. That consent adds some value to the listeners lives.

Joel: That’s a good question.

And look at my book collection.

Stack: Yeah. I didn’t give you time to prep. So this is on me. I apologize.

Joel: There

There’s a few books.

Stack: Yeah, you can get, give us whatever you want to give us.

Joel: So this one isn’t totally inappropriate, but there’s A book called the subtle art of not giving a

Stack: Yeah, Subtle are not giving a fuck. I have it.

Joel: Okay.

Stack: I trust me, you’re fine to drop the F-bomb. I do it constantly on the shell.

Joel: Okay. That’s. It’s hard. I’m not giving a fuck was

Once you get past that, get some of the basic humor of the title. I think there’s some value in. That approach to things and. And I know a lot of times that. I’m guilty of this. If I get worked up over things that really aren’t that big of a deal. There’s other things that are much more important. So we have. I think sometimes when you have some of these actual serious things that occurs, it helped to put other things in perspective. And some of the. The minor. Irritants that happen on a daily basis. I think. Probably benefit of solid. Remember there. Big scheme of things that we’re really not all that important.

Stack: It’s interesting that you mentioned the, that book. And the premise Like paying attention to what’s important and what’s not important. And. And before we came on air, I mentioned That we found out that we had lost somebody in the department today. And they kinda. I don’t know. That puts it in perspective.

Joel: Yeah.

Stack: Yeah. So what other books did you have for us there? If. If you had a few in mind

Joel: There was a, actually another more, relate to my field, but there’s a book called the joy movement.

Stack: I haven’t heard of

Joel: Yeah. So it basically just talks about all the. The happiness that physical activity can bring to people. And. How I

Moving and doing physical activity is inherent in our. Genetics and that when people are in it, we all have different preferences. What types of physical activity you would like to do if you like to play sports or. Not a run or. Lift weights, but by and large people are happier when they’re moving. So I think that was that’s another book that kind of has resonated with

Stack: And that goes to a deeper subject even. And a societal level because of the lack of PE and movement in schools nowadays we’re teaching people that not moving as okay.

Joel: Yeah. I can. Tell you cause I’m. And I’m seeing a lot of the colleges. Now we were probably coming. Through that. They’re just basic movement skills. My perception of a decreased.

Stack: We see that in the fire department, when you, when the candidates are coming through, trying to get into the academy. I made dimension of deconditioned one day but then I realized it’s not even de-conditioned if you’ve never been conditioned.

Joel: Yeah.

Stack: It’s just a lack of general knowledge and a lack of movement in society.

Joel: Yeah, it’s it’s scary. I think the. Pandemic has worsened as we’re people are working more remotely now. And like they want people probably don’t have to leave their house.

Stack: Yeah.

Joel: As often and. And such.

Stack: No people are definitely not leaving their house as often. And they’re not, you. You see you. Obviously over the last year or so, we’ve seen more people emerge from their homes and get out. And so that’s good to see, but I think you can go back to the pandemic. If you’d had more movement, more health, That the pandemic might not have affected as many people as it And so there’s something that we can preach about all day until these basic changes are made to have people healthier and not have. So have a proactive healthcare, not a reactive healthcare. Something like the pandemic has always going to affect affect the general population. Very roughly. I appreciate the conversation, sir.

Joel: No, this is great. No, I really enjoyed talking about these issues and hopefully that we can keep doing more does support prince William county and. I think just the fire service as a whole, across The country.

Stack: Yeah. And I’m, I think I’m probably going to get bombarded with some question from this episode. So I might reach back out to you and try to clarify some stuff and move on from there. If you don’t mind.

Joel: No. Happy to help.

Stack: All right. And. I might be sending an email and get into this program with you and I’d be interested to see what it’s all

Joel: Okay.

Stack: So I will link to your information in the show notes and it will be in the introduction as well. When I record a proper and induction for the show, and then hopefully people will reach out to you Either ask questions or get involved in your program.

Joel: Yeah, that would be great.

Stack: I thank you for everything you’re doing for us and keep it up. And hopefully we start to see some positive change in our department and across the fire service.

Joel: Yep. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. I really enjoyed this call

Stack: Thank you. I appreciate it. Take care and have the, have a good rest of your day.

Joel: you too.

Stack: All right, I’ll talk to you later.

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