Universiteit Leiden

Work out while resting

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Relaxing on the couch and playing video games, or just using the smartphone, is far more enjoyable after a hard working day than doing fitness activities. But there may be a new trend: Exergames, can this help you get rid of motivational problems?

In our society we have everything but time. So working out should be time-efficient and of course should have enhancing effects on our fitness. Can so called Exergames help us to train ourselves as well as the brain and its functions?
Exergames can be defined as an acronym that consists of exercise and gaming (Bogost, 2007). They combine these two factors as they use a special way of training – video games. One of the most popular examples is Pokémon Go. By using this application, you have to move along the city, you are actually in, to reach new levels and find Pokémon on the streets you walk.

Originally aiming on reducing sedentary activities and prevent obesity in children, they nowadays focus on keeping people active, fit and improve their cognitive functions.

Why do they work? The answer is simple. It acts in the same way as you learn to open the door of the fridge. Because you expect a reward. By playing the games there are several reinforcers included such as a rewarding headline popping up or the defeat of a (virtual) opponent. This creates a strive to keep playing even though the reward may be presented later or even stay absent. In a very simple way this is the paradigm of operant conditioning and the approach that Exergames follow. It is even possible to reach flow by playing Exergames so that you neglect your surroundings and keep playing. To reach this status the game needs to be high in attractiveness (referring to the psychological aspects of gameplay) and also high in effectiveness (referring to physiological aspects of exercise) as Sinclair, Hingston and Masek (2007) explained.

A more scientific approach to use these games is to enhance cognitive functions. Gao and Mandryk (2012) investigated whether there were beneficial effects of playing Exergames and compared it to classical treadmill training. The participants were asked to play a moderate-intense game for 10 minutes a day. The main findings are that acute cognitive improvements can be measured such as higher attention. Moreover, peoples’ mood was improved as it is much more fun to play an exertive game than just to run on a treadmill and of course their overall fitness level increased.

A second application to this research field are seniors. As they are known to be unstable in gaiting or have impaired cognitive functions Exergames can help increase or at least prevent these aspects from getting worse. Maillot, Perrot and Hartley (2012) could show increased capacity to solve everyday problems like walking the stairs. Regarding cognitive outcomes, improvements were found with respect to reaction time tasks and a multitasking battery.

In sum, it is possible to work out while resting, if you percept playing video games as a kind of rest. Even more important: Competing in those games affects physiological health in a moderate positive way and improves cognitive performance for shared attention or short-term memory. So, old and young, turn on the TV and work it!

Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames. Mit Press.
Gao, Y., & Mandryk, R. (2012, May). The acute cognitive benefits of casual Exergame play. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1863-1872). ACM.
Maillot, P., Perrot, A., & Hartley, A. (2012). Effects of interactive physical-activity video-game training on physical and cognitive function in older adults. Psychology and aging, 27(3), 589.
Sinclair, J., Hingston, P., & Masek, M. (2007). Considerations for the design of Exergames. In Proceedings of the 5th international conference on Computer graphics and interactive techniques in Australia and Southeast Asia (pp. 289-295). ACM.

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