Video Games: Can They Help You Exercise? Can They Treat Depression?

Back when the Pac-Man arcade machine was the latest and greatest video game around, parents weren’t as worried about the level of exercise their children were getting every day. Today, video games present much more of a threat to the activity levels and overall health of the gamers who play them, especially kids. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Depression also affects much larger proportions of the population compared to data from the 1980s. This may be due to a lessening stigma surrounding mental health issues and a growing rate of accurate reporting, but still, studies show teens in the 2010s reported trouble concentrating 38 percent more often than teens in the 1980s. The later group of teens was also 74 percent more likely to have difficulty sleeping and twice as likely to seek professional help for mental health issues.

With both childhood obesity and depression seemingly surging amongst the next generation, more and more people are asking: can video games help?

Video Games and Exercise

One of the latest inventions designed to get kids moving is the “Think & Learn Smart Cycle” from Fisher-Price. The stationary bike connects wirelessly to a tablet or TV and toddlers control game play with the pedaling action. The games are designed to teach kids reading, math, science and social studies, and to get them moving for a change.

Between the Xbox Kinect, PlayStation Move and Nintendo Wii Fit, video game developers are constantly looking for a new connection to gaming and healthy movement. Whether or not these developments are having a positive effect? The jury is still out. One thing is for sure – “exer-gaming” is definitely more productive than stationary gaming.

Video Games and Depression

A recent study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety found that older adults who suffered from attention and focus due to depression showed improvement after playing an app called “Project: EVO” for 20 minutes a day, five days a week. When compared to the control group of adults who attended weekly therapy sessions, their progress was similar.

As video game trials and studies continue, hopefully progress will also continue towards transforming video games into more than just entertainment. Using gaming as a tool to unlock physical and mental health improvements could provide major benefits to children, teens and adults of all ages.