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Things that make researchers smile …

Researchers at the MRC Epidemiology Unit often ask people to wear devices that allow them to measure their physical activity. Sometimes they get unexpected results, as Physical Activity Specialist Kate Westgate and Communications Manager Charlotte Ridgway recall in this story of festive frenzy.

The heart-rate trace in question

The heart-rate trace in question (Copyright: MRC Epidemiology Unit)

Here at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, we frequently ask volunteers to wear a movement or heart rate monitor for up to a week so that we can measure their levels of physical activity during their everyday life. But taking these measurements out of the controlled environment of the clinic can lead to unexpected results.

Sometimes when reviewing the data we get back from the monitors, we become perplexed by patterns that don’t look biologically plausible. For example, leaving a movement monitor called an accelerometer in a pocket and putting it through a washing machine cycle can lead to some pretty crazy “non-physiological” read-outs, as did a child attaching their monitor to their pet dog as an ‘experiment’.

One that really baffled the team was a heart rate trace of a four-year old child, seen in the picture above. We couldn’t understand why on two nights the sleeping heart rate was noticeably higher than the other nights — unusual given that sleeping heart rate is fairly stable from night to night.

In most cases this is explained by parents saying that the child had a fever, but this child was fine. After much puzzling, we finally noticed the dates… the 24 and 25 December! It seems that Santa’s imminent arrival was causing so much excitement that the child’s heart rate was high even when asleep.

It looks like the excitement of Christmas could be a whole new area of study…

Kate Westgate and Charlotte Ridgway

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Carol #

    What a vey cute piece of Xmas research. The link is now doing the rounds of researchers in New Zealand.

    December 18, 2012
  2. Hazel Lambert #

    This is such a lovely story, it made me smile too! Love that you’ve got your research participants working hard over Christmas too 😉

    December 20, 2012

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