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Hungry for more stories on science, culture and technology?Check out Brain Food: Insights and Discoveries from Northern Arizona. From ground breaking scientific research to global music projects, Brain Food profiles some of the unique projects happening in the region and the interesting people behind them. While there are no new episodes of Brain Food, we will continue to maintain the archive here.

Brain Food: The Alter G Treadmill...Like Running In Space

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Bonnie Stevens/KNAU
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A machine that helped astronauts get used to what it feels like to walk in space is now being used at Northern Arizona University. Physical Therapy Professor Dirk de Heer says the Alter G Anti-Gravity Treadmill teaches students about biomechanics.

"You can walk on it. You can run on it," de Heer says. "And it basically makes running or walking easier when you take off some of your body weight and you support it by air pressure. So, it's basically a big balloon, or sort of an airbag, that inflates, and it can support part of your body weight."

The Alter G can reduce a person's body weight by as much as 80%. For a person who weights 160 pounds, it'll feel like they weight 32 pounds. De Heer says elite athletes can train their muscles to move faster with this technology, and people with injuries can maintain cardiovascular fitness while they're recovering.

"You could apply this to anybody who might have trouble walking or running, or who might need a little help to make walking or running easier," de Heer says. "And certainly applications that have been recent are people with spinal cord injury, people with neurological problems like stroke or Parkinson's Disease" De Heer goes on to say, "In addition to that, people who are overweight, you might have them feel what it's like to run at a bit lower body weight."

De Heer says the Alter G Treadmill is undergoing more scientific study to understand its effectiveness. But, he says it's hard to argue with the results: The athletes who tested it finished first and second in the 10,000 meter run at the 2012 Olympics.

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