Skip to main content

Exergames Provide Cognitive Benefits for Seniors

  • Published: 2012-01-17 (Revised/Updated 2012-01-18) : Elsevier Health Sciences.
  • Synopsis: Exergaming - Term used for video games that are also a form of exercise in which virtual reality enhanced exercise, or exergames, combine physical exercise with computer simulated environments and interactive video gaming.

Main Document

Exergames may provide cognitive benefit for older adults - New findings reported in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Virtual reality-enhanced exercise, or "exergames," combining physical exercise with computer-simulated environments and interactive video-game features, can yield a greater cognitive benefit for older adults than traditional exercise alone, according to a new study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"We found that for older adults, virtual-reality enhanced interactive exercise, or 'cyber-cycling' two to three times per week for 3 months, yielded greater cognitive benefit, and perhaps added protection against mild cognitive impairment (MCI), than a similar dose of traditional exercise," explains lead investigator Cay Anderson-Hanley, PhD, from the Healthy Aging and Neuropsychology Lab and Department of Psychology at Union College, Schenectady, NY.

Research shows that exercise may prevent or delay dementia and improve cognitive functioning in normal aging. However, only 14% of adults aged 65-74 years old, and only 7% of those over 75 report regular exercise. Exergames have the potential to increase exercise by shifting attention from aversive aspects toward motivating features such as competition and three-dimensional scenery, leading to greater frequency and intensity, and enhanced health outcomes.

This photo shows a cybercycle exergame demonstration for study participants from the Glen Eddy retirement community in Niskayuna, N.Y.
About This Image: This photo shows a cybercycle exergame demonstration for study participants from the Glen Eddy retirement community in Niskayuna, N.Y.
The Cyber-cycle Study enrolled 101 volunteers, ranging in age from 58 to 99 years, from independent living facilities with indoor access to an exercise bike. 79 participants completed initial evaluations and training, and rode identical recumbent stationary bikes, except the experimental bike was equipped with a virtual reality display. Cyber-cycle participants experienced 3D tours and raced against a "ghost rider," an avatar based on their last best ride. 63 adults completed the study, averaging three rides per week. Cognitive assessment to evaluate executive functions such as planning, working memory, attention, and problem solving was conducted at enrollment, 1 month later (pre-intervention) and 3 months after (post-intervention). 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 cyber-cycle riders had significantly better executive function than those who rode a traditional stationary bike, and cyber-cyclists experienced a 23% reduction in progression to MCI compared to traditional exercisers. Co-principal investigator on the project, Paul Arciero, PhD, professor of health and exercise sciences at Skidmore College, comments, "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."

"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," notes Dr. Anderson-Hanley.

This is a sample screenshot showing scenery and competitors/avatars on an Expresso cybercycle bike tour exergame
About This Image: This is a sample screenshot showing scenery and competitors/avatars on an Expresso cybercycle bike tour exergame
The study also found a significantly greater increase of BDNF in cyber-cyclists than in traditional riders, suggesting that interactive/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 cyber-cycling condition," says Dr. Anderson-Hanley. "Consistency across conditions for goal setting and competition suggests virtual reality imagery and interactive decision-making might be potent factors of the cyber-cycle." Exit interviews provided anecdotal evidence of the value of these unique features. Participants commented on their enjoyment of visual stimulation and the challenge of out-pacing avatars.

"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," concludes Dr. Anderson-Hanley.

The two-year study was funded by a Health Games Research grant from the Pioneer Portfolio of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to explore how interactive digital gaming can improve the health behaviors and outcomes for people age 50 and older.

The article is "Exergaming and Older Adult Cognition: A Cluster Randomized Clinical Trial ," by C. Anderson-Hanley, P.J. Arciero, A.M. Brickman, J.P. Nimon, N. Okuma, S.C. Westen, M.E. Merz, B.D. Pence, J.A. Woods, A.F. Kramer, and E.A. Zimmerman (doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2011.10.016). The article appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 42, Issue 2 (February 2012), published by Elsevier.

Related Information:

  1. Action Video Games Improve Vision - Video games that involve high levels of action, such as first-person-shooter games, increase a player's real-world vision, according to research.
  2. Brain Swaggle Game - New Online Game, Brain Swaggle, Combines Chess with Scrabble to Sharpen Vocabulary, Strategy and Cognitive Skills.
  3. Bingo Helps Researchers Study Perception Deficits - Bingo, a popular activity in nursing homes, senior centers and assisted-living facilities, has benefits that extend well beyond socializing.


Information from our Disability Exercises: Exercising for Persons with Disabilities section - (Full List).

Submit disability news, coming events, as well as assistive technology product news and reviews.


Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.


Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.


List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.


Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be, and information on blood group types/compatibility.





  1. Stuttering: Stop Signals in the Brain Prevent Fluent Speech
  2. New Peer-reviewed Journal 'Autism in Adulthood' Launching in 2019
  3. People Want to Live Longer - But Only If in Good Health
  4. Canada's Aging Population Signals Need for More Inclusive, Accessible Transportation System

Citation



Disclaimer: Content on Disabled World is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. See our Terms of Service for more information.

Reporting Errors: Disabled World is an independent website, your assistance in reporting outdated or inaccurate information is appreciated. If you find an error please let us know.