Can gaming improve your health?

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Most of us have done it. You know, tried to justify a games night with the lads, telling the missus that we only get to cut loose every now and again, and that we won’t stay out too late, blah, blah, blah. However, what you might have never done is tell the other side of the truth: that gaming if done with moderation can make you healthier, turn you into a better man, and you should do more of it.

Recent research has shown that gaming can have a positive impact on your cognitive health. Certain areas of your brain, for example, the frontal lobe and the anterior cingulate, and those responsible for spatial awareness, planning, and other skills, can be strengthened by gaming. Be aware though that different genres of games have different impacts. Platform games can improve your memory, while puzzle games like Tetris can help with cravings and help you maintain willpower, for example, if you are on a diet.

Gaming can also help you to de-stress and increase well-being. For example, it can provide a sense of catharsis that can help you to let out your emotion after a tough time, like a long week at work. Gaming can, therefore, be good for your brain. One fascinating metaanalysis of the effects of active games (also known as exergaming) on cognitive performance found they, as compared with a control group, had an effect size of 0.9 for inhibitory control (layman’s terms= focus) and a smaller effect size of 0.35 for cognitive flexibility. In fact, global cognitive performance was improved significantly using active games

Gaming also has a number of possible applications in the field of healthcare. For example, in the field of elderly care. Most reading this article will know that we have an ageing population: about ¼ of people alive, today will live until they are 100. This created challenges: most pertinent to our discussion of cognitive decline and cognitive disorders such as dementia.

Studies into the impact of video games have shown that gaming can slow down cognitive decline in the elderly. As well as this, playing video games can also improve self-esteem, which is particularly important if the individual needs care or lives in a retirement community, and can also be conducive to group building and gaining social connections. As this is such an important issue that will only become more important as the decades’ pass, this is very exciting, and could fundamentally change the way we treat patients and care for the elderly.

Other applications have been cited by the The National Institute of health. They cite the research into the management of pain using video games. Video games may be useful in managing pain, quite simply because they take your mind off it. In the words of the NIH, ‘The degree of attention needed to play such a game can distract the player from the sensation of pain, a strategy that has been reported and evaluated among paediatric patients.’ One interesting example is of a young boy who had neurodermatitis and scarring, as he consistently picked his skin. This condition had not responded to other forms of treatment. However, within a couple of weeks, it had completely healed, as the boy’s attention was focused on video games, rather than his itchy, sore skin. Practical Pain Management support this, saying 81% of people cite reduced pain after being involved in studies on using video games to manage pain.

Psychology today also draw attention to how video games can be effective I treating attention disorders such as ADHD.  Most of a certain age (me for one. For Christmas 1989 I was given a Gameboy) will remember Tetris: it’s memorable theme music, and its addictive, though simple, gameplay: Tetris essentially involves the gamer sorting different shaped blocks into lines to make them disappear. If you do not do this, the blocks build higher and higher. If you reach the top of the screen, you lose. As you play the game, you have to build the blocks more and more quickly. The only goal is to achieve a high score.

Tetris is genius in its simplicity, but it has been shown to be effective in raising the attention span of those with ADHD. The simple act of playing the game and the engrossing, addictive nature of the game is one of the reasons for this. Of course, all gamers will know that many games have this addictive, attention-grabbing element. Furthermore, this was backed up by Akili Labs study on 348 children with ADHD, which suggested that their custom-made video game helped treat the symptom of the attention disorder.

Likewise, gaming has been used in a variety of other medical setting, from occupational therapy to the treatment and management of trauma and patients who are recovering from surgery.

Also, your better half may consistently nag you to lose weight, or may bemoan your new ‘dad bod’. Gaming can help you out here too. There are now games that you can physically engage with, for Wii Fit, and titles like this can improve your physical health and force you to do some much needed cardio. Exergaming (catchy name, huh?) is becoming increasingly immersive, and pretty soon it is easy to see that playing video games will soon be able to replace a trip to the gym, rather than making you feel guilty for not going to the gym. The National Institute of Health no less has reviewed the evidence, and found that 27 studies found a strong correlation between increased activity, up to 300% greater than resting levels, and playing exergames.

The title above, ‘can gaming improve your health?’ may have seemed hyperbolic, and may have had you scoffing, and wondering what kinds of faux science were going to be peddled in the article. However, the evidence, though to some extent in its infancy, is very striking, and is not confined to the blog posts of frustrated teenage gamers who want to give some credibility to their passion.

And as with everything, moderation is the key. Games are as likely to be addictive as any pleasure in this world. If you are afraid you are spending too much time in the virtual world, thinking about it even while being far away from your PC, check our article about how to overcome gaming addiction. As much as being a hero in a video game is great, it will never be as nice as giving yourself a taste of the real world adventures.

The evidence of the good impact of gaming with moderation for your health comes from controlled studies and literature reviews from authoritative sources that have nothing to gain from publicizing the effects of gaming.  So, next time you want to sell a games night to your other half, cite some of the evidence above.

 

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The infographic was published courtesy to  Computer Planet.

About the author Patrick Banks

Patrick is a Berlin-based dating advisor, motivational speaker, a huge fitness and vegan diet enthusiast and the main editor at Wingman Magazine, specialised in men's health. His ultimate goal is to share with men around the world his passion for self-development and to help them to become the greatest version of themselves. He believes a healthy body and successful social interactions are two main keys to happiness.