Can Video Games Help Fight Diabetes?

Diabetes patients may reduce blood sugar levels by playing exercise video games

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Diabetes patients are not often advised to improve their health by being in front of a video screen. If the screen is connected to an exercise video game, however, it just might help.

Physical activity helps diabetes patients manage blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol, according to the American Diabetes Association.

While there are many traditional ways to get exercise, researchers recently found that playing interactive consoled-based exercise games can help those with diabetes regulate their blood glucose (sugar).

"Get some exercise to help control blood sugar levels."

Stephan Martin, MD and Kerstin Kempf, PhD, both from the West-German Center of Diabetes and Health, Düsseldorf Catholic Hospital Group in Germany, cowrote this study, which tracked 220 people with type 2 diabetes over the course of 12 weeks.

Participants, who had diabetes for less than five years and were between the ages of 50 and 75, were divided into two groups. A total of 120 received a Nintendo console, the Wii Fit Plus exercise game with a balance board, and instructions to use these items for at least 30 minutes a day. A control group of 100 kept up with their routine care, which involved check-ups with their physician, but they did not receive the Wii console and game until 12 weeks after the study began.

Wii Fitness Plus offers training programs in yoga, strength training, balance, and aerobics, which they can perform on their own in front of a video screen.

At the 12-week mark with 176 completing the study, patients in the Wii group showed significant improvement in their blood sugar levels compared to those in the control group who did not have improved levels.

In the Wii group, the average HbA1C (a measure of average blood glucose) dropped from 7.1 percent to 6.8 percent, and in the control group the average HbA1C started at 6.8 percent and barely dipped to 6.7 percent.

Based on subjective questionnaires, scientists also reported that mental health improved in the intervention group but deteriorated in the control group.

“Given the positive attitudes of the participants and the limited restrictions for gaming at home, exercise games may potentially be used in a home setting as a tool to reduce sedentary behavior in type 2 diabetes,” concluded the authors. “In future, exercise games should be specially developed for this group of patients.”

Dr. Kempf told dailyRx News, "Patients with type 2 diabetes should try to use interactive videogames to replace inactive leisure time with active behavior. Our results demonstrated that most of participants did not play solely but with family members — partners, children and grandchildren. This kind of social and familiar [involvement] might play an important role in patient empowerment."

The study was published in December in the medical journal BMC Endocrine Disorders. The research was funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals.

Review Date: 
December 15, 2013
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014