Study: Virtual Reality Trumps Traditional Exercise In Preventing Cognitive Impairment
Exercise aided by virtual reality has cognitive benefits over traditional exercise for older adults, according to a new study published in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Virtual reality-enhanced exercise that combines physical exercise with computer-simulated environments and interactive video game features can produce greater cognitive benefits for older adults than traditional exercise alone, according to the study.
“We found that for older adults, virtual-reality enhanced interactive exercise, or ‘cybercycling,’ two to three times per week for three months yielded greater cognitive benefit, and perhaps added protection against mild cognitive impairment, than a similar dose of traditional exercise,” said Cay Anderson-Hanley, PhD, lead investigator of the study and professor at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.
While research has traditionally shown that exercise may prevent or delay dementia and improve cognitive functioning in normal aging, only 14 percent of adults aged 65 to 74 and only 7 percent of those over 75 report regular exercise. According to the study’s authors, “exergames have the potential to increase exercise by shifting attention from aversive aspects toward motivating features such as competition and three-dimensional scenery, leading to greater frequency and intensity and enhanced health outcomes.”
The study included 101 volunteers aged 58 to 99 from independent living facilities with indoor access to an exercise bike. Sixty-three adults completed the study, some on a cybercycle and the remainder on a traditional stationary bike. Cybercycle participants experienced three-dimensional tours and raced against a “ghost rider,” an avatar based on their last best ride.
The results of the study revealed that cybercyclists had significantly better executive function than those who rode a traditional stationary bike. In addition, the cybercyclists experienced a 23 percent reduction in progression of mild cognitive impairment compared to traditional exercisers.
“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,” said co-principal investigator Paul Arciero, PhD, professor of health and exercise sciences at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The investigators speculated that the benefits of cybercycling could be derived from navigating a three-dimensional landscape, anticipating turns, and competing with others, which requires additional focus, expanded divided attention, and enhanced decision making.
“These activities depend, in part, on executive function, which was significantly affected,” said Anderson-Hanley.
“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,” Anderson-Hanley said.