Forget going for a walk: Why the Wii workout ‘is best exercise for over-50s’
Computer exercise work-out games give the over 50s a healthier brain as well as body, a new study has found.
The 'exergames', such as Wii fit, combining exercise with virtual reality environments and interactive videogame feature, provide more cognitive benefits for the older user than exercise alone, it is said.
The exergames helped to protect the player from cognitive decline, the researchers from Union College, New York, claim.
Exercising 2-3 times a week with systems such as the Wii Fit yields greater benefits for over-50s than traditional exercise
Lead investigator Dr Cay Anderson-Hanley said: '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.'
It is known that exercise may prevent or delay dementia and improve cognitive functioning during normal ageing.
But despite the health benefits only 14 per cent of adults aged 65-74 years old, and only seven per cent of those over 75 exercise regularly.
Exergames could increase the frequency that people exercise by shifting attention from negative aspects toward motivating features such as competition and three-dimensional scenery – leading to healthier individuals.
The Cybercycle Study enrolled 101 volunteers, aged 58 to 99, who were living independently and had indoor access to an exercise bike.
Exercise may prevent or delay dementia and improve cognitive functioning during normal ageing
79 participants completed initial evaluations and training, and rode identical recumbent exercise bikes but the the experimental bike was equipped with a virtual reality display.
While seom simply cycled the laid-back machine other volunteers were given 3D tours and raced against a 'ghost rider,' an avatar based on their last best ride.
Cognitive assessment to evaluate executive functions such as planning, working memory, attention, and problem solving was conducted at enrollment, one month later and three months after.
Blood plasma was tested to measure whether a change in brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF) indicated possible neuroplasticity, a mechanism of change that could link exercise to cognition.
The team found that the cybercycle riders, who had the games while they cycles, had significantly better executive function than those who rode a traditional stationary bike, and cybercyclists experienced a 23 per cent reduction in progression to MCI.
Games played on the Nintendo Wii help stimulate a healthy brain as well as the body for the over 50s
Dr Paul Arciero, whom worked on the research, 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.'
Dr Anderson-Hanley added: 'Navigating a 3D landscape, anticipating turns, and competing with others require additional focus, expanded divided attention, and enhanced decision making. These activities depend in part on executive function, which was significantly affected.'
The study also found a significantly greater increase of BDNF in cybercyclists than in traditional riders, suggesting that interactive or combined mental and physical exercise may lead to cognitive benefits by way of biomarkers linked to neurotrophic effects. '
Further research will be needed to tease apart the contributions of a variety of factors in the cybercycling condition,' Dr Anderson-Hanley said.
'Consistency across conditions for goal setting and competition suggests virtual reality imagery and interactive decision-making might be potent factors of the cybercycle.'
When quizzed the subjects said they had enjoyed the visual stimulation and the virtual competition.
Dr Anderson-Hanley concluded: '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.'
The results of the two-year study are published today in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine.