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Exergaming may offer older people cognitive benefits

January 18, 2012|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Exercising on a regular stationary bike might not yield the cognitive benefits that cybercycling does, a study finds.
Exercising on a regular stationary bike might not yield the cognitive benefits… (Susan Spano )

Exergames -- exercise combined with virtual reality -- might give a cognitive boost to older people more than regular workouts, researchers have found.

A study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine focused on 79 men and women ages 58 to 99 who did three months of regular exercise on a stationary bicycle or three months of exergaming on cybercycles.

The cybercycles had a virtual reality display that let riders take part in 3-D tours and compete against a ghost rider avatar. Riders in both groups did the same frequency, intensity and amount of exercise.

Study participants were given cognitive tests at the beginning of the study, at one month and at three months. Those tests measured brain functions such as attention, planning, problem solving and working memory. Their blood also was tested for changes in brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor, which encourages the health and growth of nerve cells.

After three months, those who exercised on the cybercycles did better on cognitive tests than those who worked out on stationary cycles. They also had a 23% reduction in the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment compared to the stationary cyclists. Those in the cyber group saw a bigger rise in brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor than the regular exercise group.

"Navigating a 3-D landscape, anticipating turns, and competing with others require additional focus, expanded divided attention, and enhanced decision making," said lead author Cay Anderson-Hanley in a news release. Anderson-Hanley, in the department of psychology at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., added: "These activities depend in part on executive function, which was significantly affected."

The study authors wrote that the added mental exercise required to operate the cybercycles could be the reason for more cognitive benefits. They added that more research is needed to understand what the factors really are, as well as if cycling outdoors can offer the same benefits as virtual rides.

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