Kennedy Space Center turns to IUPUI active-gaming researcher for help with slips and falls

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Kennedy Space Center

If you don't believe active gaming produces results when it comes to physical fitness or rehabilitation from injuries, talk to employees at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Kennedy Space Center has served as America's spaceport, hosting all of the federal government's manned spaceflights since the late 1960s. KSC RehabWorks provides injury assessment and musculoskeletal rehabilitation services to employees at the center.

When KSC RehabWorks launched an initiative about three years ago to reduce the number of lost work days stemming from injuries caused by slips, trips and falls, leaders wanted active gaming to be among the mix of services provided to employees to address balance-related issues.

KSC RehabWorks turned to Keith Naugle, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Physical Education and Tourism Management at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, to help make that happen.

Naugle was contacted because of his research into active gaming and its various uses in physical activity, rehabilitation and pain in the school's Physical Activity and Pain Laboratory. He joined the school's faculty in 2014 after serving eight years as a clinical assistant professor and clinical education coordinator in the University of Florida's athletic training education program and exercise physiology/fitness wellness programs 

Active gaming occurs in games like Nintendo's Wii Sports, such as boxing and tennis games, or the Wii Fit Balance Games where movement occurs. Rather than just sitting, players actually swing an arm or throw a punch. There are also active games that focus on balance in which a player stands on a plate that measures postural sway.

"The idea is that you're moving side to side, keeping within your limit of stability without toppling over," Naugle said. "You're learning how far you can go."

"They wanted to incorporate the Nintendo Wii into what they called 'balance zones,'" Naugle said. "They set up balance zones throughout the Kennedy Space Center so that any employee could work on different balance tasks anytime they wanted."

Naugle joined discussions at the center about how to incorporate Wii games as a tool in the balance zones. Now, a wide range of employees use them.

KSC RehabWorks' initiative has broadened, encouraging employees to be physically active in general. "Being physically active kind of goes hand in hand with improving your balance and reducing the amount of injuries," Naugle said.

Naugle has visited Kennedy Space Center several times, including twice this year to provide health and safety presentations.

Balance training through active gaming produces similar results to other forms of balance training using equipment like a wobble board (a wooden board with a ball on the bottom of it), according to Naugle.

"What we've found is that the results are similar, but training with active gaming is more fun," he said. "People are more likely to come in and do their exercises if they know they are going to start with 10 to 15 minutes of video game play.

"It is a mode of exercise that helps get people who have not been physically active up and moving."