Betfred Sport

Want to improve your reaction times? Just shine a light in your ear!

Remember when those 'nasal strips' were all the rage - Robbie Fowler (pictured) wouldn't play without one. The general idea being that if you enlarge the nostrils, you will breathe in more oxygen and ultimately play better.

Well, here is the next innovation that could catch on for top players, after a successful trial improved the performance of ice hockey players' reaction times.

A clinical study involving ice hockey players from the Finnish national league has revealed that "in ear" light therapy can boost 'motoric' reaction times - how quickly we react to visual stimuli and convert these into actual movements - by 20%.

This means that the players who used the light therapy as part of their training regime were able to react faster and perform better than the players in the study who only received a placebo.

Researchers at Finland's Verve Institute used Valkee, a portable bright light headset, on 11 ice hockey players while another 11 team members received treatment from a placebo Valkee device.

Portable device

Invented by scientists in Finland, the Valkee bright light headset is a portable device that emits 8-12 minute doses of safe, bright light directly to light-sensitive areas of the brain via the ear canal. In trials all 22 players, split evenly into those who used the Valkee and the placebo, used their device for 12 minutes each morning for three weeks. Reaction times were evaluated at the beginning and at the end of the study in a laboratory setting.

For the players that used the placebo device, there was no change at all in their reaction times. But for the players that used the authentic Valkee headset, there was an impressive 20% decrease in reaction times when the 11 players were tested at the end of the three week period using the Valkee headset.

But why does this have anything to do with football? Well, in an age where the top clubs have huge teams of staff focusing on different areas including sports science, diet, psychology and specialist coaching and training techniques, 'finding the edge' is high on the list of priorities.

Harry Redknapp introduced pilates to the Tottenham players' training regime and the move appears to have translated into better performances and ultimately better results. 

Valkee are already running a trial for the in ear light therapy with a football club in Germany - and Mikko Tulppo, who led the study with the ice hockey players on behalf of the Department of Exercise and Medical Physiology at Verve Research, in Finland, says the revolutionary light therapy will work for any athletes, including elite footballers.

'Significant impact'

He said: "We undertook the study to investigate ways to improve athletic performance, particularly during the darker winter months when cognitive performance can be slower.

"The results of the study are interesting in that they reveal a significant impact in the motoric reaction time for top athletes using bright light via the ear canal."

With greater focus on peak physical condition and performance in football, Juuso Nissilä, chief scientist at Valkee, expanded on that explanation by adding that the light therapy has the best results in top level athletes - but says it will work at any level.

Nissilä believes elite footballers in particular will benefit from the therapy, given that reaction times are such a key factor in the game, adding that Valkee are looking to build on their results with ice hockey players and introduce the therapy to other sports - football included.

"The ice hockey players were all in prime cognitive and physical condition, and their reaction times were already extremely fast before using the Valkee," he said. "The fact that "in ear" light is proving to provide an additional edge is very promising for athletes and sports enthusiasts."

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