Keep On Practicing

Stroke victims could benefit from muscle activity and metabolic efficiency information

(RxWiki News) Practice makes perfect, they say, but keep on practicing even after perfection. Continued practice makes the body more efficient - so that the same tasks use less energy.

A robotic arm was used by participants to learn arm-movement tasks. Even after a new task was learned - the energy used continued to decrease. This new information could lead to better rehabilitation programs.

"Even after you have mastered a task - keep on practicing!"

Alaa A. Ahmed, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado at Boulder, says that “the message from this study is that in order to perform with less effort, keep on practicing, even after it seems as if the task has been learned. We have shown there is an advantage to continued practice beyond any visible changes in performance."

15 right-handed subjects used a handle on a robotic arm to control a computer cursor. In some trials the robotic arm ‘pushed-back,’ which made controlling the cursor more difficult.

Subjects wore nose clips and a mouthpiece so that oxygen consumption could be measured. They also wore electrodes on their arms to measure muscle activity.

The researchers found that even after muscle activity decreased, a sign that something has been learned, metabolic energy use continued to decline.

About 20% less energy was used by the body to complete the same task.

The findings could change the way that rehabilitation programs practice with their patients.

"Using the robotic system, we can understand the principles underlying the control of human movement and can apply those ideas to design rehabilitation programs that may allow stroke patients to re-learn their movements faster, to retain that learning and to transfer that learning to other tasks as well," says Ahmed.

She continues, "The rehabilitation process should not necessarily stop if the patient reaches a plateau in performance. Continued practice reduces the metabolic cost of the task, an indication the brain still may be learning something.”

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience on Feb. 8th, 2012. 

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Review Date: 
February 13, 2012