Any type of physical exercise you perform improves how your brain functions. But researchers now say there’s a particular type of exercise that’s both enjoyable and provides an extra dose of oomph to your cognitive abilities.
The secret is that it uses technology to exercise your brain and your muscles at the same time. And they have the studies and brain scans to prove it!
For years now scientists have been investigating the brain benefits of what’s called “exergaming.” Exergaming is what it sounds like… an activity that’s both playing a video game and moving your muscles and body at the same time.
For example, instead of merely pedaling a stationary bike as you do in a normal exercise session, you pedal your bike while watching a video screen and racing against other virtual bikers.
When researchers in Norway and Germany performed brain scans on people who were “exergaming” they found solid evidence that exergaming stimulates brain activity that produces important cognitive effects.1
Improves Brain Function
For example, their study showed that exergaming strengthens the characteristics of what are called “theta” waves in parts of the brain that indicate “improved cognitive processes.” (Other researchers note that when your theta waves are enhanced, you are often in a “very positive mental state.”)2
The researchers also discovered that exergaming leads to downward shifts in the brain’s alpha waves – waves that are associated with unfocused thinking. That shows that your mind is intensely involved when you exergame.
Exergaming May Mean Extra Helpings Of Happiness
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Georgia have discovered that exergaming may be especially effective for folks who don’t want to go to the gym for the traditional type of sweaty workout that some people love but others disdain.
The Georgia researchers say that exergaming can be an important first step to getting more physical activity for those of us who are reluctant to get started on an exercise program.
According to researcher Sami Yli-Piipari, PhD: “I see exergaming and technology-enhanced exercise as a steppingstone. It’s the first step in the right direction, especially for people who are not involved in any kind of exercise.”
The Georgia study compared the experiences of beginning exercisers who were assigned to group exercise classes to those who engaged in exergaming. The researchers found that exergamers enjoyed more “autonomy satisfaction.” That means they felt more in control of their exercise sessions, enjoyed it more than the gym-goers enjoyed their workouts and were more likely to keep on exercising after the study was over.3
Other studies show that exergaming can:
- Increase your ability to focus on complex mental tasks and improve executive function. A study in Asia demonstrates that exergaming can help older people strengthen their flexible thinking, self-control and working memory – skills that, as a group, are called executive function. Executive function often deteriorates as people age.4
- Boost your overall brain power. A review study in Germany reveals that exergaming is often more effective at providing cognitive support than exercise that doesn’t involve gaming. These researchers believe that more research is needed to better understand how to optimize the brain benefits of exergaming.5
- Help people recover from strokes. Research in Brazil indicates that exergaming can help with recovery from a stroke and may even shorten the time needed for rehabilitation. The investigation found benefits for restoring balance and upper limb motor function.6
One of the big pluses of exergaming is the fact that it’s fun.
That’s important: When it comes to beginning and sticking to an exercise program, many folks have a hard time being consistent. If you’ve had that problem, you just might find that the fun of playing a video game while you work out is just the thing you need for motivation.