Athletes strive to win, and they thrive on competition. But does mood like feelings of frustration during a race affect their performance?

Researchers at St. Anselm College (Manchester, New Hampshire) are using the LifeShirt from VivoMetrics (Ventura, California) to try to answer that question.

In the research, the LifeShirt, a non-invasive, lightweight garment, was worn by 23 athletes in a virtual reality scenario to monitor their respiratory and cardiopulmonary functions. The participants ran on an elliptical machine wearing headsets projecting a visual representation of a running track. When a virtual competitor appeared on the track, the participants were told not to increase work load and let the competitor stay ahead of them on the track, stimulating what the researchers termed a "self-reported frustration."

"People know when they are running and someone passes them that they have a reaction," Paul Finn, PhD, professor and chair of the psychology department of St. Anselm College and principal investigator of the study, told Diagnostics & Imaging Week. "That can be a thought of 'okay, I'm going to take you down,' or it can be a thought of frustration, but it converts directly to physical performance."

The LifeShirt was used to record variations in heart rate and respiration, known as "additional" heart rate, to determine how competitors may affect the physiological response of an athlete who self-reports frustration during competition. The LifeShirt captures subjective user input, and all physiologic and subject data are correlated over time, explained Elizabeth Gravatte, VivoMetric's director of marketing.

"Part of the LifeShirt system is an electronic patient diary that can be used for either patient self-reportive subjective information, or, in Dr. Finn's case, they put in actual parameters of the protocol of what was happening," she told D&IW. "So if you look at Dr. Finn's information, you can see he's put in 'okay, the subject is being passed.' Now you can go back and watch and see what happened to their heart rate and what happened to their breath rate at that time. Their physiologic parameters are all synchronized and time-stamped."

Finn, who also coaches the men's and women's cross country teams at St. Anselm, said the study is using additional heart rate to assess mood and athletic performance.

"When someone is running, ventilation is already increased, heart rate is already increased, so to take a measure of that isn't going to really buy you anything," he said. "The focus of the LifeShirt has been looking at the combination of respiration and heart rate, and that specific construct called additional heart rate, to try to tease out the emotional component from exertion at a high level of performance."

The mobility and durability of the LifeShirt led Finn to select it for the study, he said. Previous equipment for monitoring mood assessment limited participants to a sedentary position.

"In life, we don't all sit in chairs," Finn said. "With the LifeShirt, for the first time, we can monitor how positive or negative stimuli affect the athlete as he performs."

Final results of the ongoing study should be available this spring.

The LifeShirt's role in monitoring, diagnosis and making early assessment of health risk has numerous applications, from pharmaceutical trial and disease monitoring to use by military personnel and first responders. As for its role in athletic training, the Australian Olympic rowing and British cycling teams are among the list of prestigious LifeShirt users.

The LifeShirt system uses respiratory inductive plethysmography technology, its apparatus consisting of two respiratory bands that go around the rib cage and the abdomen.

The eight-ounce garment is imbedded with insulated copper wire and has sensors attached to gather data that is sent to a data recorder worn on the patient. The collected data is downloaded and sent wirelessly or via Internet or phone modem to either mobile or fixed data centers, where it is processed by the proprietary VivoLogic Software. Reports are available as full-disclosure waveforms or in summary fashion.

The system can be tailored to the specific needs of any clinical trial. Optional peripheral devices that measure things like blood pressure or blood oxygen saturation can be added. Gravatte said a key to the LifeShirt is that it's ambulatory and can be worn anywhere. "In many cases this gives more relevancy to the data that's being collected, because you're not simply confined to collecting data in a lab environment," she said.

"Respiration is one of the key indicators of health, and the LifeShirt has the unique ability to measure respiration as well as other cardiac and physiologic measurements," Gravatte said. "Having the respiratory data allows researchers to investigate linkages between various components of health."

To date, the LifeShirt has been used in more than 126 studies, about 2,700 subjects and 95,000 hours of rese-arch, she said.

"We're being used in 60% of the top medical schools in the U.S. to study everything from asthma to bipolar disease to breast cancer to congestive heart failure," Gravatte said. "The list just goes on and on."