How Video Games Are Helping Seniors

Disclaimer: Results are not guaranteed*** and may vary from person to person***.

—by Cate Stevenson, BA

Seniors and those with debilitating conditions like arthritis can find it challenging to get some exercise. Unfortunately, without exercise, the physical body can rapidly decline. So, how can people with moderate stiffness and discomfort deal with this dilemma? How about playing a little “Wii?”

If you are or someone you know is in need of physical activity, gaming just might be the ticket. It could help you achieve a healthy, active, less-pain-filled life. Movement of the joints is known to increase strength, which is supposed to stretch tendons and muscles and help bone structure, which could lessen the painful effects of arthritis.

In fact, many physical therapists have decided to invest in gaming systems in order to give their patients a motivational way of exercising. A typical gaming system such as Wii uses a motion sensor control. This means that the player has to move around in order to play the game.

Researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine assessed the exercise potential of different Wii games in a recent clinical trial. The research team outfitted 24 overweight to obese men and women with wrist-worn accelerometers to measure the number of calories burned while playing games for a half hour. All the participants were between 66 and 78 years old.

The researchers found that those who played an individual bowling version of Wii burned between 20 and 176 calories during the exercise. Team bowling was a little less beneficial, consuming 18 to 89 calories, while baseball consumed 22 to 144 calories, and tennis burned 17 to 72.

Although not an improvement on real-life sports activity, the study team suggests that movement-oriented video games offer a good alternative for those older individuals for whom real sports participation is not a realistic option. According to statistics, 40% of older-adult females and 30% of males ages 70 and above do not participate in any significant physical activity.

Gaming could be a fun way to motivate someone who has been avoiding physical exercise. During the study, most of the seniors who tried Wii found it interesting and beneficial. If you are a senior or you know an inactive senior, why not get up and get moving around? You can enjoy a little activity for a half hour a day and reap the benefits. Worried about the technology? Don’t be — there were no problems reported in the clinical trial from any of the participants. Besides, you can always get that teenager in your life to set you up and coach you in the finer points of gaming. No doubt they will be very impressed by your new venture.