By: Sarah King
An exergame, or exertion gaming, combines physical activity with actions, challenges, and achievements that are scientifically proven to enhance older adult wellness goals in multiple domains. Exergames rely on movement tracking technology that responds to physical movements by monitoring the reactivity of participants. Popular examples of exergames include Wii Fit sports and Dance-Dance Revolution.
In 2015, a study of 90 older adults compared Xbox Kinect exergames vs. traditional home-based balance exercises. Both groups exercised five days a week for six weeks and had significant improvements in balance after the study. However, the exergame group’s increased balance was far more significant than the traditional exercise group. They also showed improvements in functional walking.
For older adults, exergames increase mental stimulation, feelings of social connectedness to peer groups, range of motion, focused attention, independence, and sharing through a fun and interactive experience. In contrast to other forms of physical activity, exergames are more accessible to older adults with limited mobility and can simultaneously help re-connect them to their passions. For example, if an individual was a lifetime golfer but can no longer walk, virtual golfing can reunite them with their hobby and contribute to a higher quality of life.
Additional benefits of exergames include fall prevention measures. Since a large portion of falls occur due to incorrect weight shifting during walking or multitasking, slowed steps in wrong directions, and leg collisions during compensatory cross over steps, exergames provide supervised opportunities to train participants in making quick, well-directed corrective steps that have been proven to reduce falls by 50%.
Dennis L. Kappen, Pejman Mirza-Babaei & Lennart E. Nacke (2019) Older Adults’ Physical Activity and Exergames: A Systematic Review, International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 35:2, 140-167, DOI: 10.1080/10447318.2018.1441253 Karahan AY, Tok F, Taşkın H, Kuçuksaraç S, Başaran A, Yildirim P. Effects of exergames on balance, functional mobility, and quality of life of geriatrics versus home exercise programme: randomized controlled study. Cent Eur J Public Health. 2015;23 Suppl: S14-S18. Skjæret-Maroni, N., Vonstad, E. K., Ihlen, E. A., Tan, X., Helbostad, J. L., & Vereijken, B. (2016). Exergaming in Older Adults: Movement Characteristics While Playing Stepping Games. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00964