Active video games — those that incorporate physical activity — may be just as beneficial for cardiovascular health as running in people with type 1 diabetes, according to a new study published in the Games for Health Journal.
As the study authors noted, previous studies on the health benefits of active video games have mostly involved people without chronic diseases like diabetes. For the latest study, they were interested in whether active video games could be a useful way to increase physical activity levels in people with type 1, since exercise has been shown to help improve blood glucose control in this population. Specifically, they compared the cardiovascular effects of active video games with those of running, looking at a few different responses — heart rate, blood pressure, double product (a measure of heart oxygen consumption), vessel diameter (a measure of blood flow), and endothelial function (a measure of the health of cells lining blood vessels).
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On the first day of the study, all 10 participants — whose average age was 24.9 — had baseline measurements of cardiovascular function taken, and also completed a 30-minute exercise session. Half of the participants were randomly chosen to start with running, while half started with an active video game. Measurements were taken again right after exercise and 30 minutes later, and participants also reported how much they enjoyed their exercise. Then 24 hours later, the cardiovascular measurements were taken again. This same protocol was followed again a week later and once more a week after that, for a total of three weeks with measurements taken on two days each week. For each exercise session, half of the participants were randomly chosen to do either active video games or running.
Similar cardiovascular response, more enjoyment from active video games
The researchers found that the cardiovascular responses following active video games and running were broadly similar — particularly when it came to heart rate, blood pressure, and double product. For vessel diameter and endothelial function, the responses were actually slightly better following active video games compared with running. Participants also reported greater enjoyment after playing active video games than after running. Similar reductions in blood glucose were seen after both active video games and running, compared with baseline blood glucose measurements.
The researchers concluded that active video games led to cardiovascular and blood-glucose-lowering benefits similar to those seen after running — but with higher levels of enjoyment reported by participants. This greater enjoyment might mean that active video games could be a good way to encourage people with type 1 — possibly youths and young adults in particular — to get enough physical activity. More research is needed to look at whether the differences in enjoyment that participants reported would actually translate to getting more exercise through active video games in a real-world setting.
Want to learn more about exercising with diabetes? Read “Add Movement to Your Life,” “Picking the Right Activity to Meet Your Fitness Goals” and “Seven Ways to Have Fun Exercising.”