Improving the health and physical performance of Soldiers across the globe was the featured topic of the 3rd International Congress on Soldiers Physical Performance held in Boston Aug. 18--21.

The meeting, which included 325 leading scientists and experts from approximately 30 countries, featured multiple seminars and presentations in which research and recommendations were shared.

Dr. Bradley Nindl, a physiologist and the scientific advisor for the U.S. Army Public Health Command, served as a co-chairperson for the conference.

"This meeting is focused on developing the individual service member," Nindl said in his opening remarks. "It is our hope that throughout this meeting, and in the coming years, we can continue our scientific work to benefit Soldiers."

The conference, which is held every three years, is hosted by various countries.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Caravalho Jr., commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, emphasized the importance of enabling Soldiers to perform at their highest capacity to contribute to the overall security of their nations.

"The fact that you all [our International partners] are singularly focused on improving Soldier performance … that is the right message," said Caravalho. "By leading in this international forum, with experts from across the world, we hope to exchange the most current scientific information on Soldiers' physical performance in a way that facilitates action and progress."

A key focus of Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho is to move Army Medicine from a healthcare system to a system for health. This means moving from a system that is focused on treating the sick and injured to a system focused on preventing disease and injury
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The U.S. Army Public Health Command is at the tip of the spear in leading that change.

"We know that disease, illness, and injury know no borders--they are a common challenge across armies and communities all around the world," said USAPHC Commander Maj. Gen. Dean G. Sienko, during a recorded video greeting for participants. "Partnerships are a primary focus of Army Public Health Command. We are partnering with academia, scientific organizations, and public health entities at all levels. And, we're engaged in dialogue with local health officials. Not only do we defend against disease and injury, we take the offense in optimizing physical performance."

The conference featured 250--260 speakers who presented posters on multiple topics and offered 40 break-out sessions.

During one break-out session, scientists expressed the need to lighten the gear that Soldiers carry in battle.

"The absolute loads Soldiers are carrying are increasing, with many Soldiers carrying 30--50 percent of their body weight," said Robin Orr, a scientist who spoke from Australia.

These heavy loads can affect mobility.

"The more load you carry, the slower you go," said Orr.

Additionally, scientists reported that heavier loads caused more injuries to the knees, backs, ankles and feet of Soldiers.

To combat such injuries, Dr. Joseph Knapik, a research physiologist with the USAPHC, presented the results of his literature review, which suggested that Soldiers could incorporate varying exercises into their routine to help them adjust to carrying heavier gear.

"Our studies show that a weekly combination of upper body resistance training, aerobic training and load carriage exercise can assist Soldiers in improving their load carriage performance," said Knapik.

Attendees at the 3rd ICSPP said the conference was quite beneficial.

"Information was presented on a variety of topics that was directly related to the work we do," said Veronique Hauschild, an environmental scientist in the USAPHC's Injury Prevention Program.

Dr. Bruce Jones, a physician-epidemiologist and Injury Prevention Program manager at the USAPHC, enjoyed the opportunities for networking and collaboration.

"It was great to meet scientists from other countries and to see that we had a shared goal of making our Soldiers healthier," said Jones.

Sixteen personnel from the USAPHC attended the 3rd ICSPP.

In addition to the U.S. Army Public Health Command, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine served as hosts of the conference.

(Melissa Myers, MRMC Public Affairs, contributed to this story.)