Worried about the time your kids spend glued to their gaming consoles? Fear not, gentle gamers and parents. It turns out that playing video games actually offers some health benefits — for the young and young at heart. The latest scientific research suggests that video games can be good for your body, your mind and your emotional well-being.
Not convinced? Here are 9 ways that video games might be just what the doctor ordered.
Video games improve hand-eye coordination.
When you play games, you have to process the information that your eyes take in and respond accordingly with your hands. This practice may improve your overall hand-eye coordination.
Studies have shown that action games may be particularly helpful in this regard. Playing action-based games on a regular basis could train your brain to acquire other repetitive-motion skills more quickly.
Your eyes get a boost, too.
Your mother may have repeatedly warned that you were going to destroy your eyesight with too much television, but video games may actually be good for your eyes.
In games, you have to pay close attention to details. That develops a skill known as spatial resolution. And it can carry over into non-gaming aspects of your life.
Of course, it’s still important to take care of your eyes while playing games.
Don’t sit too close to the screen, and try to keep the brightness of the screen and the surrounding room fairly similar. Give your eyes frequent breaks from the game. Every 20 minutes, focus your vision on an object elsewhere in the room for 20 seconds.
Playing video games gives your hands (and wrist) a workout.
You exercise your legs by walking and your abs by doing crunches. But what about the rest of your body?
Operating a video game controller can be a fun way to improve your hand and wrist movements. In fact, some physical therapists use video games as part of their treatment plans to improve patients’ range of motion after wrist injuries.
These benefits aren’t just for the injured, either. Studies have shown that laparoscopic surgeons who play video games before a procedure are better at tiny surgical maneuvers than their non-gaming colleagues.
Even if you won’t be performing surgery anytime soon, you might still benefit from better wrist and hand control.
Gaming gets you moving.
Video games aren’t always a sit-on-the-couch type of activity. Some of them are designed to get you up and moving.
Game controllers with motion sensors encourage players to sway, jump, duck or dance. This can be helpful on days when the weather keeps you inside, or you’re stuck at home for other reasons.
Whether you pick a game that’s expressly designed for exercise or just one that incorporates movement as a way to spice up traditional gameplay, you can get your heart rate up while striving for the next high score.
It also opens your mind.
Games can teach you things. As you visit new lands or put yourself in a character’s shoes, you may learn to see the world around you a little differently.
Many games, especially ones for kids, are billed as educational. They may introduce players to new concepts or reinforce lessons learned in school. At the end of a playing session, your math, science or language skills may be a little bit better than they were before the game.
And your critical thinking skills, too.
A game doesn’t have to be labeled as educational to improve your brainpower. Working through game-based challenges can improve your real-life problem-solving skills.
Story-based games and puzzle games typically require you to engage your brain as you progress through the levels. Sometimes, you may have to work through several different approaches before you find the solution that works.
This trial-and-error process can help foster perseverance, creativity and critical thinking.
Video games can help you focus.
Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may soon be able to minimize their symptoms through gameplay. The Food and Drug Administration has already approved one game-based device for ADHD treatment.
Of course, the FDA’s ruling applies to a specific prescription-only therapeutic device for children, so you probably won’t be able to take advantage of that particular setup yourself.
Even so, the principle of improving your focus through gameplay may still apply. Research indicates that a moderate amount of gaming — about an hour per day — may refine your attention skills.
And reduce your stress.
If you’ve ever settled down with a video game at the end of a stressful workday, then you’re not alone. For many people, gameplay serves as a way to unwind.
Science seems to back up that idea.
The research isn’t yet conclusive, but there are signs that gaming can be good for mitigating stress. It seems that puzzle games may bring down your heart rate and blood pressure, and combat games may actually improve your mood.
Even better? Playing video games keeps you connected.
Modern video games are often played in conjunction with others, and you don’t even have to be in the same place. Through online gaming, players can work together to solve problems and rack up high scores.
Many multiplayer platforms have chat functions through which you can discuss both the game and other aspects of life. As long as you’re careful about how much personal information you reveal and set boundaries about the way you allow people to speak to you, this can be a great way to feel connected to others even when you’re far apart.
Games with a social storyline can help people learn more about human behavior and interactions. For some people with autism and others who struggle with social relationships, video games may provide positive guidance. And those lessons could carry over into real-life interactions.
A note to parents: make sure you set your own guidelines for how your kids interact with strangers online. Younger kids in particular might need help navigating what’s safe and what’s not. Check in from time to time with your teens, too, to keep them safe.
When it comes to gaming, moderation is key.
Constant video gaming certainly won’t turn you into a fitness buff, but playing several times a week has the potential to improve your health in ways that jogging and jumping jacks can’t. Through gaming, you may be able to strengthen various parts of your body while also enhancing your cognitive and emotional well-being.