Wednesday, August 28, 2013


'Exergaming' Helps Older Adults Improve Cognitive Function

Virtual reality–enhanced exercise can delay cognitive decline more
than traditional exercise, report investigators. The technique combines physical training with a computer-simulated environment and interactive videogame features.

Woman viewing 3-dimensional landscape while cybercycling.
Virtual reality–enhanced exercise games such as the Wii Fit and PlayStation Move have become popular and tend to increase the appeal of exercise. These so-called "exergames" have the potential to increase fitness by shifting attention away from some of the aversive aspects of working out, and toward motivating features such as competition and 3-dimensional scenery.

In this multisite cluster randomized trial, investigators compared a new approach using this concept, called "cybercycling," with the standard stationary bike.

"We anticipated that seniors would enjoy cybercycling, which they did, but we did not anticipate such a robust and significant cognitive effect from cybercycling compared with traditional exercise," lead investigator Cay Anderson-Hanley, PhD, from Union College, Schenectady, New York, told Medscape Medical News. "This gives us hope that there is more that can be done to both boost participation in exercise and increase the benefit of a workout through innovative exergames."

Results of the clinical trial were published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"Exercise can make a meaningful difference in brain health in later life, and interactive mental and physical exercise appears to yield additional cognitive benefit," Dr. Anderson-Hanley said during an interview. "In our study, older adults who used the cybercycle 2 to 3 times a week for 3 months garnered significantly greater cognitive benefit for the same effort as those who rode a traditional stationary bike."

With dementia on the rise, no cure yet available, and an estimated 100 million affected worldwide by 2050, "we need every tool available to curb progression and enhance cognitive function," Dr. Anderson-Hanley explained.

She pointed out that the exercise effort and fitness were comparable between groups, suggesting another underlying mechanism. A significant group × time interaction for brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor indicated enhanced neuroplasticity among cybercyclists (P = .05).


Serge Gauthier, MD, a spokesperson for the Alzheimer Society and director of the research unit at the McGill Center for Studies in Aging in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, complimented the work. "This exergaming study is a good one," he said to Medscape Medical News. Dr. Gauthier acknowledged that although the findings will need to be replicated in a different and larger group, they are in line with recent work performed by his team.

Reporting in the June 2011 issue of Brain (2011;134:1623-1634), researchers led by Sylvie Belleville, PhD, from the Research Centre, Institut Universitaire de Gériatrie de Montréal, found that despite the presence of mild cognitive impairment, the brains of the participants remained highly plastic, and training resulted in significant neural changes that were measurable with brain imaging.

One explanation for the greater cognitive benefit found with cybercycling compared with traditional cycling is the added mental exercise required. Navigating a 3-dimensional landscape, anticipating turns, and competing with others requires additional focus, expanded divided attention, and enhanced decision making.   READ MORE