5 Pieces of Health Research You Can Thank the Olympics For


From physiologists simulating new methods of different mountaintop breathing conditions for training skiers to sport psychologists helping prime the brains of elite athletes to be more like those of figure skaters to win, the Olympic Games are often prime-time for health science researchers to generate funding for studies that would otherwise be difficult to fund.

While there are thousands of scientists and medical professionals around the world working on Olympic-related research because in-anticipation of Sochi 2014, we found five studies from current and past Olympic Games that have forever changed health research:

A “skier-friendly” Band-Aid

The last thing a skier wants is to get injured during a high-speed run down the slopes, but that’s how a new kind of wireless vital-sign monitor would work, thanks to a Band-Aid you’d get before you ever face the exhilarating slope of the ski hill.

Researchers at British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University have created such a device that’s so miniaturized, it can be “taped” to a skier or snowboarder’s body with a large Band-Aid.

Tested during Vancouver 2010, the device (pictured above) can send real-time heart-rate, blood-pressure, breathing and other information thousands of feet through the air to coaches and doctors monitoring statistics on a nearby laptop or tablet (pictured at-right.)

Between Sochi 2014 and the next Winter Games, researchers hope to miniaturize the technology (currently being used to track wildlife) enough to be practical for use during the competition.

That could include making the circuitry completely flat-and-flexible, and perhaps even eliminating the battery by replacing it with power that’s “beamed” inward to the athlete as their vitals are beamed outward.

World-class twisting (that’s easy on chiropractors and spinal surgeons)

British researchers decoded the biomechanics of twisting, improving the performance of Olympic gymnasts, divers, trampolinists, and freestyle aerial skiers, between Vancouver 2010 and London 2012.

Using computer simulations and analyses of recorded performances, the researchers gained key insights into the mechanics of movement during twisting somersaults.

The new information has given common ground to aerial movement coaches, allowing them to help athletes increase training and competition safety, and to communicate effectively across a variety of disciplines.

The work is also contributing to improved performance, while enhancing the viewing experience of spectators.

‘Print My Ride’

The London 2012 Paralympics saw the world’s first 3D printed wheelchair seats, tailor-made for basketball players.

The eight athletes who received the new chairs had 3D body scans to capture their movements and positions in their personal wheelchairs. Then, computer-aided design technology was used to shape the outer layer of the seat to suit each player before the seats were built up layer-by-layer using a 3D printer.

The new seats were molded to support each athlete’s size, shape, and particular disability, giving them better speed, acceleration and maneuverability.

Olympics are awesome for the older population: Other study

Researchers monitoring the health of Vancouver’s aging population during the 2010 Olympics found thatrather than being disrupted and put on-edge by the Winter Games, seniors in the downtown core actually felt better when the largest event in the world came to their doorstep.

“There was one person in our survey who was highly negative at the beginning of our survey [at the prospect of having to ‘put up’ with the Olympics] who was a totally different person in terms of positivity when she was running her normal errands out on the street during the Games,” says University of British Columbia researcher Heather Stewart.

“She commented on how crowded it was, but also how enjoyable it was – how happy everyone was. I don’t think there were ever any concerns [from those surveyed] about crowds’ response to their reduced mobility – Largely, the reaction was so very positive.”

Science of Sochi

So what new tidbits of interesting (and sometimes obscure) health science will we learn once the dust clears from Sochi 2014?

Olympic Summer and Winter games are a hotbed of research for health science that not only benefits Olympians and Olympians-to-be, but also the general public.

In the coming days, we’ll be taking a look at that aspect of Olympic medical research.

Meanwhile, got any interesting medical research headlines we didn’t mention here? Drop it in to the Comments section below or tell us whether you think the five studies we’ve mentioned here truly changed the face of medical research.



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