The New Scientist has been running short features titled ‘Maxed Out: Testing Humans to Destruction’. Which begs the question: how far can extreme sports push the human body?
Now, hopefully we know our own limits. We should also be able to judge what is physically safe – and have a little fun while testing ourselves – but how can we know what is physiologically safe?
Extreme sports push the human body
Just what are the limits? What can our bodies actually do? It seems to me that there is no end to how fast we could go, how deep we could dive, or how high we might climb.
Every time a prediction that places a ceiling on human achievement is made, it is proven wrong.
Take the benchmark blue-ribbon event, the men’s 100m sprint. It was thought that a time of 9.6 seconds was the limit. Jamaica’s Usain Bolt has already dipped below this, at 9.58. And he says he can take it to 9.4 seconds. All World Records fall; men and women evolve; we develop technology to help us, and the only way is up!
The physiologically limits
Summarised here, the New Scientists piece makes a fantastic read.
On surviving at altitude without oxygen: Mike Grocott of the University of Southampton, told the journal: “I’d guess the limit would be about 9000 metres.”
On G forces: Alec Stevenson of UK-based defence firm Qinetiq, explained that some people can remain “perfectly conscious at 6g“, while fighter pilots in specialist suits can pull 9g – although higher tolerances have been reached.
On surviving the cold: Once core temperature reaches 24C, the heart stops – usually.
On going without food or water: Fat people can still starve if they can’t metabolise their reserves; water is key, but without it, it is unlikely you’ll manage more than a week.
And without oxygen? Large lungs are helpful, but there really is only so long breath-holding can go on for. “Elite breath-hold divers expect the limit to be extended to about 15 minutes before record-setting will level off,” Johan Andersson at Lund University in Sweden, told the publication.
While as a species we appear to be getting fatter, clearly we are also getting fitter.
So, are we bound to physical limits or are we just slowly evolving? How far can extreme sports push the human body? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Here’s the New Scientist section ‘Maxed out Testing Human’s to destruction‘