Insufficient levels of physical activity in adult Australians are increasing. In 2007 and 2008, approximately 62% of adults did not meet recommended ‘moderate’ physical activity guidelines.
Strength, mobility, aerobic capacity, energy, anxiety, depression and reduction in fall risk in older populations have been shown to improve following increased physical activity interventions. Additionally, there are recently published findings suggesting high levels of physical activity are associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
One method to increase participation in exercise programs involves the use of fun and engaging exercise-based videogames (exergames).
Advances in videogame technology have seen the development of inexpensive, sophisticated video capture and inertial sensing devices for measuring movement of the human body. For example, the Microsoft Xbox Kinect is now at a price point (ca. AUD$400) that means it can be used in the homes of older adults in physical activity programs.
The interactive videogames available on these devices combine player movement, engaging recreation, immediate performance feedback and social connectivity via cooperation and competition. Such programs have been shown to promote motivation for, and increase adherence to, physical exercise amongst children and young adults.
In older adults, the results are even more impressive. Videogames have been shown to affect cognitive abilities and to be a feasible alternative to more traditional aerobic exercise for middle-aged and older adults. In the Falls and Balance Research Group we are embarking on a new phase of research to investigate if exergaming can also reduce fall risk older adults.
In a recent pilot trial we have demonstrated that as little as an 8-week exergame (Dance Dance Revolution) intervention can significantly improve stepping ability and reduce fall risk in adults aged 65 and over. Together with partners in Europe we are developing a novel exergaming technology for home-based fall prevention assessment and training. We will begin iStopFalls pilot trials later this year.
Dr Kim Delbaere is a research group leader at NeuRA and an emerging leading international researcher in the area of falls in older people.