More than just child’s play: Can exer-gaming improve the health and well being of older adults living at home?

Kimberly Miller is a Heart and Stroke Foundation Research Fellow and Research Coordinator (FAST study) at the University of British Columbia, Canada.shutterstock_120981763

The World Health Organisation recommends regular physical activity for older individuals as an important preventative measure against disease and disability. While we all recognize that regular physical activity is important, it can be difficult for many people to achieve.  Against this background, there has been increasing interest in the potential for using popular, commercially available gaming systems, such as the NintendoTM Wii, as a means of exercising in the comfort and convenience ones’ own home.

In our article in Age and Ageing we review the evidence for virtual reality and gaming system use by older adults to exercise in their homes. Researchers had investigated the potential benefits of gaming system use to improve balance and walking ability, fitness and strength, and cognitive and emotional well being in healthy older individuals and people with neurological conditions such as stroke. This is an emerging area and our review found that there is insufficient high-quality evidence at the moment to confidently recommend home-based gaming system use for exercise in these groups of people. In our article, we make recommendations for stronger research to examine the benefits of home virtual reality and gaming system use for exercise by older adults. Also importantly, we recommend that future research should clearly describe feasibility issues relating to the training and assistance required to use the gaming systems, and monitoring to ensure safety and absence of pain or other symptoms during exercise.

The strong adherence to the game based exercise programs and enjoyment of the activities reported in reviewed studies suggest this is a promising direction for future research to support regular physical activity in older individuals at home.

There is much potential in using virtual reality or gaming technologies to make exercise accessible, motivating, enjoyable and therapeutic.

The full paper can be read on the Age and Ageing website here.

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