“Exergames” Better than Exercise

Cognitive function improved and dementia delayed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Videogames tend to get a bad rap because of all the couch time they require. However, recent research demonstrates that some provide more holistic benefits than typical exercising. 

According to a study available through the February 2012 issue of American Journal of Preventative Medicine, investigations into the cognitive capacity of older adults suggest that “exergames,” i.e. virtual reality-enhanced exercise videogames, provide greater cognitive gains than traditional exercise alone, possibly even preventing or delaying dementia. 

"Consider adding games to your daily regime."

Corresponding author on the study, Cay Anderson-Hanley, Ph.D., of the Healthy Aging and Neuropsychology Lab at Union College, explains, “Navigating a 3D landscape, anticipating turns, and competing with others require additional focus, expanded divided attention, and enhanced decision making.

These activities depend in part on executive function, which was significantly affected.”

Dr. Anderson-Hanley and Paul Arciero, DPE, of Skidmore College, led a research study to investigate the impact of “cybercycling” in adults 58 to 99 years of age. The pair teamed enrolled 101 volunteers with 63 completing the three-month project. The participants rode stationary bikes with or without attached virtual reality consoles, depending whether they were in the experimental or control groups.  

Experimental groups were taken into a 3D world for leisurely strolls and competitive races.

Psychiatric evaluations to determine cognitive function occurred at initial enrollment, one-month in, and three-months out. Samples of blood plasma were collected and tested to determine brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF) levels, which indicate neuroplasticity, or the ability for structural or functional change in response to the environment.

“We found that for older adults, virtual-reality enhanced interactive exercise, or ‘cybercycling’ two to three times per week for 3 months, yielded greater cognitive benefit, and perhaps added protection against mild cognitive impairment (MCI), than a similar dose of traditional exercise,” reports Dr. Anderson-Hanley.

The riders demonstrated a greater capacity for executive functioning as well as a twenty-three-percent reduction in mild cognitive impairment progression as compared to those participating in traditional exercise alone.

BDNF levels also increased more in the cybercyclists, indicating that the mental and physical stimulus together excited important biomarkers responsible for supporting the survival of existing neurons in the brain.

Arciero believes the videogames are responsible for this benefit. “No difference in exercise frequency, intensity, or duration was found between the two groups, indicating that factors other than effort and fitness were responsible for the cognitive benefit,” he notes.

Study authors organized the study in response to predictions that dementia cases could reach 100 million by year 2050. Exercising is known to stimulate cognition; however only a small percentage of older adults participate in daily physical activity.

Investigators believe that “exergames” could help motivate movement by adding the fun factor in physical engagement.

Several game systems currently exist which interact with physical body movements instead of a mere hand-eye coordination.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 17, 2012
Last Updated:
January 17, 2012