Get fit with video games

Playing Half Life can increase your life span.

Ians April 13, 2011


Video games tend to be associated with preteens, laziness and isolation. Rarely do adults factor into the dialogue. But as it turns out, video games may improve communication and mobility for women who are 50-years-old and more.

A recent study through La Trobe University’s School of Public Health found that the Nintendo Wii may benefit the social and emotional well-being of older women. Dennis Wollersheim conducted a 12-week study on women aged 56-84, who attended a Planned Activity Group (PAG) at Melbourne suburbs. The area has an ageing population with an increase in chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, according to a La Trobe statement.

“Older persons are at risk of isolation and have low levels of physical activity, both of which are associated with negative health outcomes,” said Wollersheim. “In this study, we explored the feasibility of incorporating the Nintendo Wii (video game console) into a PAG setting to assess the physical and psychosocial effects.”

In the first six weeks, the women’s oxygen levels and metabolic rate were measured as they completed normal activities like drinking tea, eating snacks, selling lottery tickets and walking to the canteen. In the second half of the study, the measurements were repeated after Wii play was incorporated into their days.

Study results showed no physical effects from Wii play, but participants reported an improved sense of social, psychological and physical well being.

This supports the results of a survey carried out by The Gadget Helpline, a phone service for consumers troubleshooting electrical equipment. Consumers were asked, “What gadget makes you happiest?” Among 3,000 respondents, Wii beat out other gaming consoles and devices such as the iPod.

“Participants (in the La Trobe study) perceived a greater sense of physical well-being through the physical output of the games,” said Wollersheim. “The physical nature of the play also encourages interaction between players and spectators. This makes Wii-play more connected to the real world than traditional video games.”

Many of the women noted that being more technologically adept allowed them to share common interests and feel more connected to their grandchildren, Wollersheim noted.

This study is among the first to measure the effects of physical exertion among elderly gamers, but numerous studies have measured video games’ effects on cognitive ability.

Researchers at North Carolina State University are currently involved in a two year study to measure changes in the cognitive skills of adults over 65 years who regularly play Wii’s Electronic Arts’ Boom Blox Bash Party.

In 2008 the University of Illinois published the first study to demonstrate a long-term positive correlation between older gamers and increased cognitive skills. The study involved 40 adults over 60 who played a strategic computer game called Rise of the Nations. The participants were tested before, immediately after and weeks after the gaming experience. Those who played the game displayed increased cognitive capacity when compared to themselves prior to the gaming experience and when compared to a control group of non-players.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2011.



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