To keep your memory and intellect going strong, follow the old maxim “Use it or lose it.” It’s good advice, and repeated often in these pages.
You can’t go wrong when you keep your brain fine-tuned by learning new things – like a second language or the information in an adult ed course.
And today, I’ve got good news about another way to keep your wits about you.
It’s called “exergaming”. . .
Exergaming combines physical movement with playing a video game. Research shows that it helps keep your brain adept at complex thinking.
As an added bonus, this “therapy” is engaging and fun. And tests show it produces measurable brain benefits.
Get Your Game On
Many studies have demonstrated that exercises like walking, biking and running can reduce the risk of losing your cognitive ability, but recent studies from Union College in Schenectady, New York give it a new twist.
Researchers found that when you engage in exercise while taking part in an interactive video game, you get more cognitive bang for your buck. The activity produces a bigger memory and brain boost than exercise or gaming do by themselves.1
“We found that for older adults, virtual-reality-enhanced interactive exercise, or ‘cybercycling,’ two to three times per week for three months, yielded greater cognitive benefit, and perhaps added protection against mild cognitive impairment (MCI), than a similar dose of traditional exercise,” explains researcher Cay Anderson-Hanley.
The investigation at Union College used a video game linked to a stationary exercise bicycle. On the bike, people in the study were required to wend their way through video obstacles and make decisions about where they were going.
“Navigating a 3D landscape, anticipating turns, and competing with others require additional focus, expanded divided attention, and enhanced decision making,” says Dr. Anderson-Hanley. “These activities depend in part on executive function, which was significantly affected.”
The “executive function” that Dr. Anderson-Hanley refers to is the ability to plan your activities, organize your thoughts, maintain a working memory, pay attention to what you’re doing and remain adept at problem solving.
Helps Stroke Patients
Another benefit of exergaming, according to a study in Switzerland, is its suitability for helping stroke victims recover their mental focus and resolve body control issues.2
The Swiss researchers say that, in combination with conventional treatment for a stroke, using exergaming improves what they call visuospatial neglect (VSN) training. VSN, which often follows a stroke, takes place when damaged areas in your brain impair your ability to be aware of what’s going on in certain parts of your visual field.
The Swiss study, which used specially designed exergames and virtual reality scenarios, showed that exergaming with the videos helped the stroke victims regain much of their cognitive ability and allowed them to be more aware of their surroundings.
Other investigations demonstrate that:
Exergaming can efficiently improve strength, balance and mobility in seniors. A study that involved people in Switzerland and Spain shows that specially designed exergames help older people keep their independence. The games used in this research were structured to help improve skills needed in daily life.3
Exergaming can be used to help people recover from neurological disabilities. A review study in Italy reveals how these exercises can be used to rehabilitate people suffering from both memory problems and movement disorders.4
As an additional – and important – benefit, exergaming helps people stick to their rehabilitation programs. Working your way back from a neurological problem can be discouraging because the process can be hard work and require persistence for a long time. But the fun of playing an exergame can motivate people to keep doing the necessary work to recover.