Benefits of Exergaming for Seniors

Benefits of Exergaming for Seniors

Exergames have a number of benefits for seniors. Other than being an engaging physical activity suited to any fitness level, iDANCE and other active games provide social interaction and cognitive stimulation, helping older adults to improve both their exercise habits and lifestyle. Physical activity benefits include improved balance and coordination as well as disease prevention, both of which are particularly important at an advanced age.

There are many reasons why seniors should maintain a regular exercise routine. These include keeping the body flexible and mobile, building core muscular strength, creating more energy, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, working on balance and the ability to prevent falls, improving mood and fighting depression, aiding in better sleep, and building self-confidence.

iDANCE and similar dance mat games can be beneficial to seniors in this respect in more ways than one. Other than not being too strenuous when played at easy levels, active games are quite entertaining and have several significant advantages over traditional fitness routines that seniors in particular can reap benefits from.

Here are some of the ways in which seniors can benefit from exergaming:

Older adults and physical activity

Chronic ailments that are common among seniors – arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and dementia among others – can be prevented, delayed or slowed down by exercise. This is why, for illness prevention, health experts recommend at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity for seniors who don’t suffer from any health conditions, as well as muscle strengthening exercise at least twice a week. Those who follow these guidelines gain a number of health benefits, the most important ones being good cognitive and body functioning.

Doctors also recommend physical activity that improves balance and coordination at least twice a week to reduce the risk of falls. Exergames can be particularly beneficial in this respect, as they are interactive in nature and require players to anticipate events and respond to them while playing. This improves not only their response time and coordination, but improves their overall level of agility and fitness, which can help with fall prevention among other things.

Better cognitive functioning

Exercise can delay dementia or prevent it altogether. The American Journal of Cognitive Medicine published a study on the cognitive benefits of exergames for older adults and their advantages over traditional forms of exercise in February 2012. The study showed that seniors aged 58 to 99 who took up interactive fitness games several times a week reaped greater cognitive benefits and possibly added protection against mild cognitive impairment than those who engaged in traditional exercise.

The researchers conducted a cognitive assessment of participants’ executive functions, such as problem solving skills, working memory, planning, decision making, and attention, a month before and three months after study. The participants whose exercise routine involved an interactive game showed better executive function and experienced a 23 percent reduction in progression to mild cognitive impairment (MCI) compared to those who had engaged in a traditional exercise routine of the same intensity, duration and frequency. In other words, the interactive elements of active games, ones that call on players’ ability to anticipate and make decisions, added measurable cognitive benefits, greater than those gained in traditional exercise.

Mood and social interaction

A study conducted by the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California in 2010 showed that active games can significantly improve mood in older adults, as well as overall mental health-related quality of life. The research focused on symptoms of subsyndromal depression (SSD), which is much more common than major depression in seniors, and usually linked to functional disability and suffering, and found that an activity like exergaming can significantly improve the symptoms of SSD. Over a third of the participants in the study experienced a 50 percent or greater reduction of symptoms of depression. A significant number also had an improvement in cognitive functioning and reported progress in their game play despite being nervous about their ability to perform at the beginning of the study.

The two main problems in battling depression with exercise are that fewer than five percent of older adults meet the health requirements for physical activity recommendation, and that those who suffer from depression usually lack the motivation to stick with an exercise routine. This is an obstacle with most exercise programs. With exergaming, however, factors like satisfaction and enjoyment are rated much higher than in regular exercise, and subsequently the motivation to adhere to the workout routine is much stronger, too. This is why older adults are increasingly discovering active games and why exergames are finding their way into nursing and convalescence homes even though statistics say that only 14 percent of adults aged 65-74 and only seven percent of seniors aged over 75 exercise regularly.

iDANCE and similar dance pad games have another advantage, one intrinsic to dancing itself. Other than being a great form of exercise and using so much of the body, dancing simply improves the mood and provides an excellent venue for socializing and meeting new people, which can sometimes be a challenge for seniors.

The main advantage of iDANCE and other active games over traditional fitness routines lies in the emphasis on interactive elements and motivating factors – entertainment, challenge and competition – instead of aversive ones. Exergames are an excellent choice for older adults because they keep the limbs moving and can be played indoors, so they do not require having to make trips to the gym. Because they are fun, there is more interest in continuing them on a regular basis, especially when friends or family members also start to enjoy the challenge of the game.

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