Exergaming may be an increasingly popular exercise alternative for youth, but researchers from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. have found that virtual-reality enhanced exercise offers additional health benefits to older adults than traditional exercise.

The "Cybercycle Study" tracked 63 volunteers over the course of three months, during which they exercised two to three times a week on stationary bikes, some equipped with virtual reality displays featuring 3D tours and virtual competitions. Assessments of cognitive skills such as planning, memory, attention and problem solving were conducted upon enrollment and again after one month and three months.

After three months, researchers found that those participants who rode the enhanced bikes showed significantly better executive functioning as well as an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor, indicating a link between cognitive benefits and exercise.

"Navigating a 3D landscape, anticipating turns, and competing with others require additional focus, expanded divided attention, and enhanced decision making. These activities depend in part on executive function, which was significantly affected," notes lead investigator Dr. Cay Anderson-Hanley.

In addition to the measurable differences observed in the study, participants also commented on the added enjoyment of the visual scenery and competition, an important factor that can increase participation rates. While research supports the cognitive benefits of exercise, only 14 percent of adults between the ages 65 and 74 exercise regularly, dropping to seven percent above the age of 75.

"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," concludes Dr. Anderson-Hanley. The full results of the study can be found in the February issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.