Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

So who's fitter, the female prison officer or the younger policeman?

Ahead of the World Police and Fire Games starting in Belfast next week, sponsors Randox Health tested two competitors to find out if they are gold medal material ... with very surprising results

Randox nurse Beth Brown tests prison officer Sharo
Randox nurse Beth Brown tests Mark and Sharon

Around 7,000 competitors from around the globe will take part in the World Police and Fire Games which begin in Northern Ireland next Thursday.

The men and women from the emergency services as well as the prison service will compete in more than 50 disciplines, all hoping for glory.

They have been training for years in some cases with many having taken part in previous games.

But what makes a winner?

Crumlin company Randox Health, sponsor of the 2013 WPFG, has been finding out what it is that gives some competitors the edge over others.

Using its revolutionary technology Randox Health carried out hundreds of tests on a local police officer and prison officer who are taking part in the games.

From just one simple blood test, Randox Health's medical team were able to analyse our two athletes at a molecular level – and came up with some surprising results.

This unique challenge was taken up by Sharon, a 43-year-old NI Prison officer, and Mark, a 27-year-old officer in the PSNI.

Sharon is no stranger to the WPFG, a former gold and silver medallist who takes exercise and nutrition very seriously:

She says: "In the run up to the games I am training at least five times a week. I also cycle to and from work. I'm taking part in the indoor rowing, but I feel like I'm not getting the results from my training that I should be and I'd like to know why."

Mark is also a former WPFG medallist involved in the rugby events.

He says: "As a police officer I need to keep fit and train at least four times a week, but I've just finished two weeks of 16-hour shifts and so my diet hasn't been great. It is tough not to turn down a take away; all you want is something quick and easy.

"When I first joined the PSNI I put on 28lb in six months. I've lost that, but it has been hard work. I'd like to know more about my fat levels like cholesterol."

Randox Health scientists took blood samples from both competitors and 48 hours later were able to provide them with a detailed picture of their health.

So what did they find?

Sharon's cardiovascular system is like that of an Olympic athlete, with a pulse rate of 37, low cholesterol and normal levels of so called good fat or HDL.

Her risk of having a heart attack or stroke is a tiny 1%, her lungs, liver, bones, female hormones and stress responses are all normal, but, Randox Health's exclusive tests picked up on an issue with her kidneys.

The scientists uncovered high levels of the waste product creatinine, which can indicate muscle injury somewhere in the body.

Dr Gary Smyth, a GP at Randox Health, says it needs further investigation.

He adds: "After seeing the high creatinine levels and knowing how hard Sharon is training, we ran more of our unique tests for inflammation and infection and discovered that Sharon is indeed suffering muscle damage, which could affect her performance at the games. She is pushing her body beyond the limit and we have advised her to modify her training before the games begin. Sharon needs to ensure she gives her muscles time to recover to allow her to go for gold."

Rugby player Mark, showed no signs of muscle damage. Like Sharon his organs and bones are healthy; male hormones, infection response are all normal, but Mark's blood contains high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

This regulates the body's fight or flight response and it can also be upset by shift work. Given Mark's job and the hours he works it is not a surprising finding, but Randox Health discovered more issues which may be linked to Mark's work.

The policeman is suffering from higher than normal levels of salt and iron, his blood pressure is also raised. His cholesterol is much higher than it should be, with low levels of "good fat"/ HDL and high levels of "bad fat"/LDL.

Dr Smyth says this was a direct result of Mark's poor dietary choices when on shift work.

He adds: "Mark is a young, fit man, but if he doesn't improve his diet he could eventually suffer a heart attack or stroke.

"He has admitted to eating fast food while on shift and these bad choices are affecting his health.

"If he wants to win he needs to swap the chips for salads and not just in the run up to the WPFG, he needs to make long-term improvements."

So who wins gold in the health stakes?

Dr Smyth says that overall the competitors are in good health, but on balance Sharon is the winner.

Since undergoing the health checks, both athletes say they'll make some real changes to give them every chance of becoming winners next week.

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