Home > Highlighting JAPAN >Highlighting Japan November 2014>Healthcare in Japan

Highlighting JAPAN

previous Next

Healthcare in Japan

Building Healthier Cities

through Technology and Community

Tsukuba Wellness Research (TWR) is using information technology and data analytics to create healthier cities by getting citizens into customized personal training programs. A venture company founded by Prof. Shinya Kuno of Tsukuba University in association with the university, TWR’s avowed mission is to “make Japan healthy and active.”

The TWR e-wellness system offers customized sports and nutrition training regimens for participants. Program participants first have their physical and lifestyle conditions such as body composition and diet evaluated. TWR runs that data through algorithms it has developed based on medical/biological data Tsukuba University has accumulated over the past decade and analyzes it. The system then provides the optimal regimen for each participant based on that analysis to prevent metabolic syndrome as well as other lifestyle-related diseases.

In addition to attending supervised workout sessions by a personal trainer or coach each week, participants integrate recommended exercises into their lives and monitor their daily step count and body composition. This information is stored in a cloud database. The data collected goes to the university to be automatically analyzed, and feedback is sent to participants. Additional analysis that TWR conducts offers feedback to the trainers and coaches, and the municipalities who run the program can use this as an evaluation tool to assess the quality of the program as well. Municipalities set their own monthly participation fee for this program, which ranges from one to three thousand yen.

Along with its low birthrate and aging population, the rising cost of healthcare is one of Japan’s predominant healthcare issues. Not only has the TWR program been able to lower health risks among participants, it has also contributed to a decrease in healthcare costs for both individuals and local governments. “We’ve expanded the scope of our services because we believe healthcare is an issue that has to be addressed on a larger scale, such as by local governments, not just by individuals,” says Takayuki Fukubayashi, the director of TWR.

Since 2011, TWR has also partnered with seven cities—such as Mitsuke City in Niigata Prefecture and Osaka Prefecture’s Takaishi City—along with Tsukuba University in its Smart Wellness City e-wellness program, which aims to incorporate practices into urban planning for building a walking-friendly city that facilitates a healthier lifestyle. According to a study conducted with over three thousand participants from the seven cities in the program, their average physical strength age—an index used to measure an individual’s relative physical fitness, with lower numbers indicating greater strength—improved from 68.9 years old to 60.5 in fifteen months. In a different study that measured healthcare costs, participants’ average annual outlay for healthcare three years after starting the program was 100,000 yen lower compared to nonparticipants.

This initiative is also designed to reshape cities so that walking becomes natural and necessary within everyday life, which will help overcome the challenge defined by the “7:3 Law”—Tsukuba University’s research reveals that only 30 percent of the population actively exercises, and the remaining 70 percent are generally disinterested in doing so. “And based on a three-year study, we've found out that it’s extremely hard to convince those 70 percent to exercise,” Fukubayashi says.

So in October 2014, the TWR program tentatively implemented a reward point system that can be worth as much as 24,000 yen per year to participants in some of its partner municipalities, who can now earn points for daily effort and goals that are achieved, like walking, losing a certain amount of weight or improving their health exam results. The points earned can be redeemed at convenience stores or exchanged for gift certificates from local stores. In this way, the benefits will not just be health promotion, but can potentially spread to childrearing and have an effect on local economies as well.

Fukubayashi adds that to get people to participate in healthy activities, whether they are initially interested or not, will require the support of organizations such as local municipalities. TWR stands ready to help, using its science-based methods.

previous Next