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What Effect Does Gaming Have on the Aging Brain?

People are always worried about what video games are doing to our children. Is there a link between gaming and violence? Do they change their brains? Does playing video games on consoles or phones have an effect on education and learning? There are plenty of existing and ongoing studies on the topic and there is a lot of information out there, sometimes conflicting. 

But what about adults? They play games too, right? We’re constantly staring at our phones and entertaining ourselves, probably just as much (if not more than) kids do! If games do affect kids, can they affect adults as well?

Gaming and the Brain

We all want to keep our brains healthy as we age. There are ways to do that:

  • Eating a healthy diet

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Get enough sleep

  • Exercise

  • Manage stress

The list goes on and on. But now some experts are actually encouraging gaming! Yes, you read that right! Actually, it’s something called exergaming.

What is Exergaming?

Exergaming is exactly what it sounds like exercise + gaming. Have you ever played Dance, Dance Revolution or any of the games on the Nintendo Wii (think Wii Sports)? Those are exergames. They combine using your mind and your body to achieve objectives. The more modern counterpart is using virtual reality.

Benefits of Exergaming

There are a lot of benefits to games that force you to move. For older people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or mild dementia, these games can improve cognition, balance, and mood. Gaming combined with movement is called open-skill exercise because it’s unpredictable unlike closed-skill exercise like riding an exercise bike or doing repetitive motion. One study found that open-skill exercise forced participants' bodies and brains to work, which improved cognitive function. 

Another benefit is that a lot of exergames force the player to do multiple tasks. For example, dancing forces people to use different parts of their bodies while attempting to stay with the rhythm of the music. A study done on a small sample of older people living in a community dwelling participated in exergaming sessions for 12 weeks. Executive function, control, and dual task performance significantly improved over the non-gaming control group. 

This is something that benefits both young and old alike! Another study focused on patients with Parkinson’s disease and showed similar results. 

Train the Brain and the Body

Gaming is a mainstream activity. The future of exercise may combine gaming and exercise even more. People who exercise regularly may benefit from gamifying their routines while gamers would benefit from taking their skills to the next level by playing games that require movement. It’s a win-win for everyone. 

Exergaming is an emerging trend in fitness. The American College of Sports Medicine has even dubbed it the future of fitness. Ultimately, it’s good for everyone. When people exercise more, they stay healthier which in turn benefits the entire healthcare system. In fact, the earlier you can get in the habit, the better. So what types of exergaming activities can you do now? As of this writing, here are a few ideas:

  • Nintendo Switch has many options that get players up and moving. There are a lot of games and accessories that cater to a variety of interests and ability levels.

  • Electronic core trainers like Stealth and others have you playing games on your phone while doing planks and other ab exercises.

  • The Meta Quest (also known as Oculus Quest) has goggles and controllers to put you in the game using virtual reality. Games are immersive and range from sports simulations to strategy. 

Exergaming is constantly evolving, but it’s definitely here to stay. The applications of virtual reality are, well, virtually endless. Even though they’re seen as devices for kids and teens now people interested in gerontology are paying attention. Who knows where we’ll be years from now!

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