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Japanese fitness chain pitches dementia prevention in Asia

Region's growing elderly population offers new market for Renaissance

Japanese fitness club operator Renaissance is rolling out Synapsology, an exercise program that aims to prevent dementia.

TOKYO -- Japanese fitness club operator Renaissance will begin offering a dementia prevention program in South Korea this fall, hoping to cash in on growing demand for such services as the number of elderly people swells in the country and elsewhere in Asia.

Renaissance signed an exclusive agency contract with Seoul-based travel company Channel Factory in April. It started marketing to providers of elderly care the following month.

The Synapsology program, developed by Renaissance in 2011, is aimed at stimulating brain activity by having people do two things at once, tossing and catching a ball while doing simple math problems, for example, or moving the hands and feet in different ways simultaneously. The Japanese company says the program activates the brain and prevents cognitive degeneration by giving people challenging physical  and mental tasks.

Renaissance decided to introduce Synapsology overseas, anticipating growing demand for dementia prevention elsewhere in Asia. With inquiries about the program increasing in countries other than South Korea over the past few years, Renaissance will consider expanding into China and Indonesia as well.

The exercises can be done anywhere and sessions lasting just 10 to 20 minutes are effective, according to Renaissance. Activities can also be adjusted according to the age, gender, and fitness level of the participants, making the program suitable for a wide range of people, from children to business people to athletes.

Misao Mochizuki, who runs Renaissance's Synapsology program, said the company developed it because everyone, athletically inclined or not, is interested in staying mentally sharp. The company concluded that even older people who are sedentary would warm to the idea of brain training exercises.

Renaissance and the University of Tsukuba, northeast of Tokyo, conducted research on the effect of the Synapsology program on the cognitive function and physical and emotional health of elderly people. Their results suggest the program improved the alertness and motor skills of those who took part.

At nursing care facilities, many people who participate in the program say they feel they are using their brains more because of the unfamiliar movements they perform. Those who supervise the exercises say participants are more communicative with others and show more engagement in activities.

At present, Synapsology programs are operating in elderly care and preventive nursing care facilities, corporate employee health-management programs, fitness clubs and pharmacies. The program is also used in community health initiatives, physical education classes for children and sports training.

Synapsology is used in a variety of settings outside nursing homes, including local government facilities and companies. In Japan, about 250 companies use the Renaissance program.

By 2060, the share of people over 65 is forecast to rise by about 10 percentage points compared with 2015 in countries such as Japan, China and South Korea, according to a Japanese Cabinet Office white paper on aging societies. Some estimates predict that by 2050, South Korea will have the world’s second-highest proportion of elderly, trailing only Japan.

According to data from the Cabinet Office, some 4.62 million Japanese aged 65 and older had dementia in 2012. By 2025, about 7 million people, or one in five, are expected to have the condition.

These predictions have sparked a search for tools to prevent dementia, or slow its onset, from exercise to smart speakers to smartphone apps.

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