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Tsukuba Health Fitness Research Group Enhances Spiritual Health

Tsukuba Health Fitness (THF) is a health promotion class that was started in 1990 by professor Kiyoji Tanaka, PhD, Institute of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Tsukuba). The class was developed specifically for people who have been, or currently are, patients in the hospital within which the THF studio is located.

By Yoshiro Okubo and Kiyoji Tanaka, PhD, FACSM, Japan


Kiyoji Tanaka, PhD
Kiyoji Tanaka, PhD

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Kiyoji Tanaka, PhD, is professor in Kinesiology and Sports Medicine at the Institute of Health and Sport Sciences at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. He is also head of the Tsukuba Health Fitness Research Institute at Higashi Toride Hospital.


The Tsukuba Health Fitness (THF) research group was launched in 1989. As it celebrates its 20th anniversary, Kiyoji Tanaka, the director and founder of the THF research group, describes what is important in promoting health among middle-aged and older adults with various chronic diseases. A translated summary of a newspaper article appearing in the Tokyo News (June 17, 2009) follows.

Tsukuba Health Fitness (THF) is a health promotion class that was started in 1990 by professor Kiyoji Tanaka, PhD (Institute of Health and Sport Sciences, University of Tsukuba). The class was developed specifically for people who have been, or currently are, patients in the hospital within which the THF studio is located. Currently twenty-three members, aged 70 years or older and who have medical histories such as coronary heart disease, cerebral vascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and osteoarthritis, thoroughly enjoy participating in fitness lessons up to three times a week. Researchers who have master or doctoral degrees in Tanaka’s laboratory at the University of Tsukuba are in charge of the exercise classes. In each session, THF offers fitness training activities such as aerobic and resistance exercises using a variety of exercise equipment. In addition, they offer recreational activities such as playing soft-volleyball and taking a walk when the weather is nice. These activities provide a great opportunity for social interaction among the participants.

Social and psychological benefits

Although his research studies on the participants have revealed many physiological effects on various coronary heart disease risk factors, Kiyoji Tanaka, the director and founder of THF, emphasizes the social and psychological benefits of the program. "A number of health clubs and fitness gyms managed by local administrations put too much emphasis on physiological or medical effects of exercise such as reductions in visceral fat and increases in bone mineral density, thereby consequently placing great pressure on both participants and exercise leaders," said Tanaka.



THF class

If any health promotion program is focused on the "total number of participants" and not centered on each individual, then the participants oftentimes do not feel the benefits. This often produces disappointment and failure to continue the exercise program. Some of the main aims of the health promotion classes offered by Tanaka are to get older people to actually feel the holistic changes in their bodies, such as refreshment, improved mood state, improved blood flow, as well as the social and psychological effects of having relationships with friends with whom they can share their joy, happiness, and concerns.

Voice of participants

A 86-year-old lady, Etsuko Suzuki, has been participating in THF since the onset of a myocardial infarction seven years ago. She explains that "I can feel exercise has made my body younger." The biggest surprise for her was that she was able to dramatically lengthen the distance of her golf driver shot to 60 yards.

Despite his hesitation when he began the program, another participant, 72-year-old Kenji Terahara, says that his eight years of participation in THF has resulted in refreshing movement, a cheerful personality and an ability to enjoy even more delicious meals.


Etsuko Suzuki

Value their desire to live long and healthy

"There is no single exercise program which lifts every older person’s spirit," said Tanaka, "but we highly value each person’s desires for good health and to age actively." By carefully watching for slight changes in their expressions and physical mobility or movements, it is possible to gradually increase the exercise intensity for each participant which results in further improvements to the body. Furthermore, chatting, laughing, and good communication among participants and fitness instructors are the important elements for improved of quality of life. "If your heart is healed, your body follows it," said Tanaka.



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