Senior citizens can benefit greatly from playing "Exergames", such as Wii fit, which involve a combination of exercise and interactive games in virtual reality environments which can help improve brain function.
Researchers from New York's Union College found that Cybercycling yields greater cognitive benefits than traditional cycling.
"We found that for older adults, virtual-reality enhanced interactive exercise, or 'cybercycling' two to three times per week for 3 months, yielded greater cognitive benefit, and perhaps added protection against mild cognitive impairment (MCI), than a similar dose of traditional exercise," the Telegraph quoted lead investigator Dr Cay Anderson-Hanley, as saying.
The Cybercycle Study enrolled 101 volunteers, aged 58 to 99, who were living independently and had indoor access to an exercise bike.
About 79 participants completed initial evaluations and training, and rode identical recumbent exercise bikes except the experimental bike was equipped with a virtual reality display.
While some simply cycled the laid-back machine other volunteers were given 3D tours and raced against a "ghost rider," an avatar based on their last best ride.
Cognitive assessment to evaluate executive functions such as planning, working memory, attention, and problem solving was conducted at enrollment, one month later and three months after.
Blood plasma was tested to measure whether a change in brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF) indicated possible neuroplasticity, a mechanism of change that could link exercise to cognition.
The team found that the cybercycle riders, who had the games while they cycles, had significantly better executive function than those who rode a traditional stationary bike, and cybercyclists experienced a 23 per cent reduction in progression to MCI.
"No difference in exercise frequency, intensity, or duration was found between the two groups, indicating that factors other than effort and fitness were responsible for the cognitive benefit," stated Dr Paul Arciero, whom worked on the research.
Dr Anderson-Hanley concluded: "The implication of our study is that older adults who choose exergaming with interactive physical and cognitive exercise over traditional exercise may garner added cognitive benefit, and perhaps prevent decline, all for the same exercise effort."
The results of the two-year study are published today in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine.