One of my most read, tweeted, and retweeted posts lately has been Video Games Make You Smarter… Really. In addition to the cognitive enhancement from “shooter” and other games involving intense screen action, there’s another way that video games can help brain fitness.
In his book, Think Smart, describes some of the research showing that exercise has major brain benefits, including significantly reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. (See Can’t Remember Names? Exercise! and Brain Improvement to Spark Fitness Boom.) We all know exercises has major cardiovascular benefits, too… so why do so many of us fail to engage in even minimal exercise?
Restak posits that boredom is the biggest reason for avoiding exercise. He notes, “the very term ‘exercise program’ turns off many people, me included.” Restak’s solution: video games. But not just any games… he suggests that Nintendo’s Wii can combine the user engagement of video games with body motions that simulate real sports activity. Their controller, for example, lets the user simulate the motion of a tennis player swinging a racket or heaving a bowling ball. The Wii Fit platform engages the lower body, by making the user simulate the leg and hip motion of a skier. Their ski jump simulation involves squatting and leaping with precise timing. A boxing program involves a range of muscles as the player weaves, ducks, and punches. (And, of course, Nintendo boxers avoid the cognitive risks from blows to the head involved in the real sport!)
Both this and my earlier post on video games illustrate Restak’s key point: if you want to consistently engage in activity that’s good for your brain, you have to make it fun and engaging. Pure calisthenics, whether physical or mental, become tiresome too quickly and discourage people from continued participation. Video game creators, on the other hand, place a huge priority on making their products easy to use, fun, and even addictive to encourage prolonged play.
Based on the multiple benefits cited by Restak (improving visual search skills, reducing cognitive decline, and encouraging exercise), it seems like one could craft the perfect brain fitness tool: an addictive action game played on the Wii Fit that requires the player to move vigorously while identifying the next threat and attacking it. To all you gamers: do any existing game titles come close to this ideal?