Want to find a fun, easy way to boost your health and cognitive functions? Ask your grandkids to pass the video game controller.

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Daily exercise, a healthy diet, and taking care of your body are all important elements of senior health. But don't forgetto take care of your brain, too.

Several recent studies have examined video games as a new way to challenge the brain, keep it young, and promote healthy aging.

Though often labeled bad for children's health because it takes time away from exercise and other physical activity, researchers have found that video games can actually be good for senior health. One study, presented at the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Scientific Meeting, found that seniors who played Nintendo Wii for an hour a week reported higher positive mood and fewer feelings of loneliness than seniors who watched television for the same amount of time.

Another study, from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, concluded that one-third of participants who played an exercise game on the Wii reported a 50 percent or greater reduction in depressive symptoms.

Video games also promote healthy aging in several other ways:

  • Improve spatial skills
  • Increase attention span
  • Make reflexes sharper
  • Process information more quickly

Video Games to Play

A variety of games, with different speeds, skills, and rules are good for healthy aging, as they use different parts of the brain and body. One particular study found that the Nintendo Wii system offers a wide variety of games to benefit seniors.

There are sports games, like Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, that require a good deal of spatial skills and some physical ability. For fitness video games, there's the Wii Fit, a fun way to get exercise and perfect for seniors who may just be getting off the couch — you can do yoga and other exercises to improve balance, all while standing in front of your TV.

EA Active is another fitness video game that can help seniors get physically active while stimulating their brains. Strategy games are good for brain stimulation — one North Carolina State University study had participants play Rise of Nations, a strategy-based computer game, and found that seniors who played it showed improved cognitive function and memory.

The skills that are enhanced through video games can help seniors with many daily activities that they may start to struggle with as they age, such as managing multiple tasks, doing simple planning, solving problems, and retaining memory.

Cognitive function often becomes impaired or begins to decline as we age, and researchers think it's because the connections between your brain cells are changing. But keeping your mind engaged, stimulated, and active can help improve brain health. One way to do that, researchers say, is with video games.