Sports research restores balance for young and old
Techniques designed to keep our nation’s sporting heroes in tip-top condition can now be used to help counteract balance and coordination difficulties experienced by both young and old in Wales.
The research, which is currently being conducted at the Sport and Exercise Science Research Centre (SESRC) at Swansea University with elite sportsmen including the Ospreys, the Welsh Rugby Union squad, Bath Rugby, Cardiff Blues and Swansea City Football team, is being conducted by way of a diagnostic testing model, which measures muscle force and power when performing routine actions such as jumping, sprinting and change of direction.
This force – measured up to 2,000 times a second using a Kistler 3-component forceplate – is then analysed and used to design highly individualised exercise and training programmes that essentially ‘retrain’ the body’s muscles, helping them function optimally in order to enhance sporting performance.
Already proving highly effective in improving speed, power and strength levels among our top players, these measures will now be used to help young children with coordination difficulties and improve balance among older people.
Poor balance ability is one of the factors which can increase the chances of older people falling and in the UK, falls among the elderly cost the NHS an estimated £1.8bn each year.
At the same time, between five and eight per cent of all children are believed to have poor coordination in fundamental whole body actions including upright balance, running and jumping, which can impact on their education and daily activities.
Nick Owen, a researcher and lecturer at the SESRC at Swansea University said: “Strength and power are incredibly important for sporting performance as well as maintaining balance and coordination. By focussing on these two aspects, the Centre has been able to make great inroads into improving the performance of some of Wales’ and the West’s top athletes.
“At the same time, we are able to use our research to help some of the most vulnerable members of own communities – our children and parents or grandparents. Not only will it help them gain back control of their own daily activities, but could result in substantial cost savings for the NHS.”
The team leading the research includes Professor Jim Watkins, Head of the SESRC, Dr Liam Kilduff, Nick Owen and Dan Cunningham.
The three research areas include techniques to measure balance and monitor conditioning improvements among elite sportsmen, the elderly and children. Pilot trials are currently being conducted at SESRC’s biomechanics lab, with both children and the elderly, and it is hoped that large scale trials will start in the New Year.
For more information on Sports Science at Swansea University visit the Department's website.
Top: Ospreys and Wales rugby player Jonathan Thomas is tested for lower body power at the SESRC, Swansea Univesity.
Middle: SESRC researcher and lecturer Nick Owen (left), with Eben Owen-Goodchild, aged eight, receiving instructions before taking part in force platform trials at the SESRC, Swansea University.
Bottom: Alastair MacDonlad, aged 84, is tested for single leg balance in a pilot study being undertaken by the SESRC, Swansea University.