Computer exercise games 'could help fight dementia'

Computer exercise games keep the brain and body fit - and could ward off dementia, experts have found

By Lachlan Mckinnon


Computer exercise games keep the brain and body fit - and could ward off dementia, experts have found. So-called “exergames” - which combine physical exercise with interactive video game features - boost players’ mental and physical powers, a study revealed. Features such as competition and three-dimensional scenery entice people to use the games more often and intensely.

Nick Clegg cheers after hitting a bullseye while playing archery on a Nintendo Wii

Research has shown exercise may prevent or delay dementia - but only 14% of 65 to 74 year olds and just 7% of over-75s regularly do so. The Cybercycle Study enrolled 101 volunteers aged 58 to 99 years from independent living facilities with indoor access to an exercise bike.

Those who used a bike equipped with a virtual reality display, with 3D tours and races against a “ghost rider”, “experienced a 23% reduction in progression to mild cognitive impairment compared to” those who used a traditional bike without the display. Dr Cay Anderson-Hanley, of Union College, Schenectady, New York, reckons video games could transform people’s mental and physical health.

She said: “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 than a similar dose of traditional exercise.”

Dr Marie Janson, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “We already know that exercise is an important way to keep body and mind healthy. The results from this small study suggest that combining physical and mental exercise through exergaming could have even more beneficial effects on cognition in older adults than normal exercise alone. Larger and more detailed studies will be needed to get to the bottom of exactly what aspect of exergaming could be giving the benefit but the early results are very interesting. Although it may be unrealistic to expect people to invest in exergaming technology, the findings show that both mental and physical exercise are important in keeping our minds active in old age. With 820,000 people in the UK already living with dementia, and an increasingly ageing population, it is important that we invest in research into preventative strategies that could help to maintain our cognition for that little bit longer.”

Paul Arciero, professor of health and exercise sciences at Skidmore College, New York, said: “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.”

People’s mental - or cognitive - function was assessed with planning, memory and problem solving tests before, during and after the study period.

Dr Anderson-Hanley said: “Navigating a 3D landscape, anticipating turns and competing with others require additional focus, expanded divided attention and enhanced decision-making. The implication of our study is that older adults who choose exergaming with interactive physical and cognitive exercise over traditional exercise may garner added cognitive benefit, and perhaps prevent decline, all for the same exercise effort.”

Source: Daily Mirror

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