After years of accusations that video games rot players' brains, a new study has found they could in fact do just the opposite.
The study sampled 102 people from eight different retirement villages, splitting them into two groups: half would exercise on stationary bikes fitted with screens showing interactive elements such as virtual pathways or challenging them to compete with other riders, and the other half would exercise on a normal stationary bike.
Study author Dr Cay Anderson-Henley, assistant professor at Union College in New York, says those with the screens experienced a 23% reduction in mild cognitive impairment compared with those without.
"We found that, for older adults, virtual reality-enhanced exercise – or 'cybercycling' two to three times per week for three months – yielded greater cognitive benefit and perhaps added protection against mild cognitive impairment than a similar dose of traditional exercise,” Anderson-Henley says.
This viewpoint is echoed by Dr Marie Janson, of Alzheimers Research UK, who says new technology like active video games could make exercise even better for you.
"The results from this small study suggest that combining physical and mental exercise through exergaming (playing active video games) could have even more beneficial effects on cognition in older adults than normal exercise alone.”
However, Dr Janson adds that a larger study will need to be conducted before conclusive results can be drawn, particularly about platforms such as the Kinect.
"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,” she says.
So perhaps gaming is not quite as bad for you as the older generation seem to think – Dr Anderson-Hanley says the study could prove several things in the long run.
"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 study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.