Exergaming combines physical movement and gaming, and has become a research focus for eSports. It has been found to positively impact cognitive functioning, physical fitness, and mental well-being. Exergames, or movement-based gaming, may require players to control game actions through physically active body movements or may simply require a suite of physical skills in order to be successful in a gaming environment.
Physical exercise has been shown to trigger various beneficial metabolic brain pathways and mechanisms that can enhance cognitive functioning (Thomas et al., 2012; Hötting and Röder, 2013; Voelcker-Rehage and Niemann, 2013; Bamidis et al., 2014; Erickson et al., 2015; Ballesteros et al., 2018; Netz, 2019). Studies have also indicated that combining physical and cognitive exercises yields the best outcomes (Fissler et al., 2013; Bamidis et al., 2014).
Exergames have been found to improve cognitive functions, such as attention and visual-spatial skills (Staiano and Calvert, 2011; Best, 2015; Benzing et al., 2016; Mura et al., 2017; Stojan and Voelcker-Rehage, 2019; Xiong et al., 2019), and physical factors, like energy expenditure and heart rate (Staiano and Calvert, 2011; Sween et al., 2014; Best, 2015; Kari, 2017). Additionally, they have been shown to positively influence mental aspects, such as social interaction, self-esteem, motivation, and mood (Staiano and Calvert, 2011; Li et al., 2016; Joronen et al., 2017; Lee et al., 2017; Byrne and Kim, 2019).
Exergames are known for their appealing and motivating impact, especially for physically less active individuals (Lu et al., 2013; Kappen et al., 2019). They have been shown to increase training adherence, long-term motivation, engagement, immersion, and flow experience in players from different populations (Valenzuela et al., 2018; Macvean and Robertson, 2013; Lyons, 2015; Lu et al., 2013; Martin-Niedecken and Götz, 2017).
For eSports athletes, exergames can provide a motivating and holistic training approach, helping maintain cognitive, physical, and mental processes to increase their performance and overall health. However, to achieve the desired benefits, exergames need to be specifically designed and evaluated by an interdisciplinary team of experts from the fields of eSports, game design and research, movement and cognitive science, as well as psychology (Plank Board and Game Ball; Beat Saber, ExerCube).
The table below is an example of a framework that includes some foundational exergaming skills, types of physical activities to strengthen them, and their relation to eSports or gaming.
Physical Activity and Cognitive Function
Physical activity and exercise have long been recognized for their positive effects on cognitive functioning and performance. Multiple studies and reviews have investigated the relationship between exercise and cognitive abilities, finding consistent evidence of the benefits of physical activity on various aspects of cognition.
Aerobic exercise, in particular, has been found to improve cognitive functions across the lifespan. A review by Colcombe and Kramer (2003) showed that aerobic exercise has significant positive effects on attention, processing speed, memory, and executive functions in older adults. Moreover, a meta-analysis conducted by Smith et al. (2010) found that aerobic exercise improved cognitive performance in adults aged 55 to 80 years, with effects on attention, processing speed, and executive functions.
Physical activity has also been shown to benefit children's cognitive development. A review by Tomporowski et al. (2008) found that children who engage in regular physical activity exhibit better cognitive performance, including improvements in perceptual skills, attention, and memory. Another review by Donnelly et al. (2016) provided evidence that school-based physical activity programs can enhance cognitive functions, including attention and working memory, and academic achievement in children.
The benefits of exercise on cognitive performance are supported by studies on the underlying neurobiological mechanisms. Exercise has been shown to promote neuroplasticity by increasing the production of neurotrophic factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (Vaynman et al., 2004), and growth factors, such as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) (Trejo et al., 2001). These factors are critical for the growth and maintenance of neurons and synapses, which contribute to better cognitive performance. Furthermore, exercise can enhance brain perfusion, leading to improved supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain (Hötting and Röder, 2013).
In addition to aerobic exercise, strength training has been shown to improve cognitive performance. A study by Cassilhas et al. (2007) found that elderly individuals who participated in strength training exhibited improved cognitive functions, including memory and executive functions. Another study by Liu-Ambrose et al. (2010) demonstrated that resistance training improved selective attention and conflict resolution in older women.
In summary, physical activity and exercise play a crucial role in enhancing cognitive performance across the lifespan. Engaging in regular exercise, such as aerobic activities and strength training, can improve attention, memory, and executive functions, which are essential for maintaining cognitive health and optimizing performance in various domains, including academics and gaming.