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VR slow training for a future without falls

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Posted June 17, 2019

An elderly woman balances on one leg while watching a television display. What do you think she’s doing? She’s actually in the midst of using virtual reality (VR) technology for slow training.

Image credit: University of Tokyo

Image credit: University of Tokyo

While Japan is leading the world in terms of a superaging society, the problem is the big gap between the average life expectancy and healthy life expectancy. For example, in 2016, the average life expectancy was 80.98 years for men and 87.14 years for women. The healthy life expectancy was 72.14 years for men and 74.79 years for women. That means that men on average may experience nine years of being bedridden or needing nursing care, and women 12 years. To lead a happy life in our silver years, we need to work hard to extend our healthy life expectancy as much as possible.

An elderly subject who had undergone continuous slow training for three months saw muscle mass increase in the quadriceps of the thigh. Image credit: University of Tokyo

An elderly subject who had undergone continuous slow training for three months saw muscle mass increase in the quadriceps of the thigh. Image credit: University of Tokyo

Professor Naokata Ishii is researching this problem from the perspective of muscle physiology. As one ages, the decrease in muscle mass increases the risk of falls, and as that is linked to an overall weakening of the body and dementia, it is crucial for the elderly to do some form of muscle training. However, using heavy exercise equipment such as dumbbells could lead to injuries. Instead, Ishii hypothesizes that low-intensity resistance training with slow movement and tonic force generation is beneficial for the elderly. Said Ishii, “Slow training involves slow movements like tai chi, and even though it uses a light load, it helps to increase muscle mass. But since the load is light, the movement has to be correctly executed to achieve results.”

In that case, why not use VR technology used for television games? Ishii took this idea up with Lecturer Atsushi Hiyama from the Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology. The result was the development of a program that superimposes the movement of the subject and that of the instructor recorded with a 3D camera on a display. In this way, the subject only has to move his or her mirror image in the display in the same way as the instructor to get a feel of the right movements. The development of the VR-assisted support system for exercise training is now one step closer to practical realization. The outlook is optimistic for a fall-free future.

Source: University of Tokyo

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