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Guide to senior exergaming

By: Marc Scott

Depression in seniors is a serious issue. The American Association of Geriatric Psychiatry reports that nearly 15 in 100 seniors suffer from severe depression — a rate nearly twice that of non-seniors. Exergaming, however, can help seniors create and maintain social relationships as well as benefit from exercise. Exergames are video games where the players move to play the game: sometimes with a controller and sometimes without a controller.

This brief guide will help you determine which gaming console, games, and activities might work best for you. To begin with, we’ll assume you have consulted a physician and are healthy enough for light to moderate physical activity. If you’re a senior with little or no videogaming experience, you may experience some frustrations. However, with a little effort and patience, you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of exergaming.

Choosing a console

A gaming console is the machine that plays video games. Each console possesses different capabilities and features, so picking the right one for you is crucial. Some consoles, such as Microsoft’s X-Box 360 and Sony’s Playstation 3, offer high-end graphics, while others,  such as Nintendo’s Wii, offer ease-of-use features. If you’re new to videogaming, you might choose the Wii for its easy-to-navigate menu. If you feel comfortable with videogames, you might select the X-Box for its Kinect feature, which allows you to play video games without a controller. The Kinect uses an infrared camera to detect your movements. Regardless of your comfort level with the technology, you should take into account your physical capabilities when selecting a console and choosing a game.

Choosing a game

Once a console is selected, choosing an appropriate video game makes all the difference in whether or not you’ll enjoy exergames. Make sure to purchase the right games for your console: a Wii game won’t play on a PlayStation and vice versa. Do take into account your desired activity level. Some exergames require more motion and coordination, while others provide only light activity. Most games also include difficulty settings that can be adjusted for each player’s capabilities. If you haven’t played videogames much, a bowling, tennis, or golf game might provide a familiar starting point, and these types of games are sold for each major console. The ExergamesUnlocked site features game reviews and activity suggestions for all major gaming consoles and notes which games are more appropriate for children, teens, and adults.

Getting set up

Some videogame consoles are similar in setup to a DVD player. There is typically a power cord and audio and visual wires which connect the console to the television. Depending on the console, a controller may need to synch, or establish communication, with the console. Most exergames are sold as discs, which are placed in the console. Sometimes the setup can go wrong, but with a little bit of patience, review of the instruction manual, and some trial and error, you should have no problem setting up a video game console and playing video games.

During gameplay

The following tips can ensure a safe and fun environment for gaming:

  • To prevent injury, you should stretch and prepare for playing exergames as you would prepare for any low to moderate workout.
  • Before playing, ample room should be cleared. The amount of clearance varies depending on the game or console, so check the game’s and/or console’s instruction manuals.
  • At regular intervals, take breaks and drink plenty of fluids to decrease the risk of fatigue and dehydration. Research has found that people who exergame sometimes underestimate the amount of exercise they’re receiving — rest and water at regular intervals will help ensure you enjoy a safe experience.

To make sure you’re receiving the benefits exergaming has to offer, here are a few tips:

  • Find others to play with. Research shows that people who play and exercise with others tend to keep playing and exercising. Exergaming might be a great way to spend time with family and friends.
  • Find a peer to help. Sometimes it’s useful for a peer to explain how to play. If you know someone who feels comfortable playing, he or she might be a great resource to help you work out some of the kinks.

After gameplay

Just like any low-to moderate exercise, you should cool down, stretch, and drink water to decrease the possibility of injury and soreness.

Why exergaming matters

Research about the benefits of videogaming and exergaming remains relatively new. However, early studies report that seniors benefit from the exercise and social interaction available through exergaming. A study led by researchers at the University of California at San Diego found that exergaming significantly reduced the symptoms of depression. The researchers found “More than one-third of the participants had a 50-percent or greater reduction of depressive symptoms. Many had a significant improvement in their mental health-related quality of life and increased cognitive stimulation.”

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Funding Information

© 2013. NMSU Board of Regents. All rights reserved. This project was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the National Research Initiative (Grant #2008-55215-18837).

About Us

The Exergames Unlocked project includes a multi-state team of accomplished media education researchers, exercise physiologists, medical professionals and doctoral students. Contributing members are researchers in their fields and have helped launch the use of exergames as tools to combat obesity in their communities and beyond. New Mexico State University researchers and their partners have been funded to research the impact of exergames, develop specific recommendations for exergame use, and implement exergaming programs. As part of that project, this website provides access to resources based on research, sample projects, and input from the exergaming community. For more information, contact the project director: Dr. Barbara Chamberlin, Professor, New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service
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Why Exergames Unlocked?

Why Exergames Unlocked? Exergames are videogames that encourage physical activity. Here, you’ll find the best and most effective exergames, as well as strategies and recommendations on using them with different audiences and in different locations.