Exergames: interactive video games for physical activity and rehabilitation

According to the major global organizations that deal with well-being, today a real threat to people’s health is represented by a sedentary lifestyle, at work and during free time. An imbalance between energy expended and energy introduced through nutrition is the predominant cause in the development of pathologies such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, especially in young age groups, where “junk food” and time spent in front of the screen reign supreme.

The research program held in 2010 in Italy highlighted that 38% of young Italians watch TV or play video games for more than three hours a day and that six out of ten children spend their free time at home.

Precisely the correlation between time spent in front of a screen and a sedentary lifestyle has led the video game industry to dedicate part of its resources to the development of products, characterized by more dynamic activities, which, maintaining playful characteristics, stimulate young people to move more. This philosophy, combined with the evolution of technology, has led to “exergames”: interactive video games capable of recording and reproducing movements carried out in reality, thanks to the integration of sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, video cameras and load cells inside of joysticks, consoles and platforms.

According to recent studies, exergames represent an effective means of combating youth sedentary lifestyle, as they allow you to increase the amount of daily physical activity by transforming the hours spent in front of traditional, generally static, video games into time dedicated to movement, with positive repercussions on well-being.

These games induce the same physiological adaptations that are generated in the classic practice of physical exercise, such as increasing heart rate and oxygen consumption, which can lead to weight loss and have positive effects on the general health of the individual.

For some years also in the rehabilitation field, positive experiences have been made on the use of video games but the main critical issue has been the need to adapt the rehabilitation activities, ultimately the objectives and methodology, to the hardware and software of video games.
Some systems allow you to continue the activity performed in the gym at home. At home, the patient has access to a system of sensors and a mini-PC which allows him to carry out the session as if he were in the gym. The strength of an intervention of this type lies in the graphical interface, which helps to carry out the exercises correctly. Since a wrong movement is ineffective for the purposes of the game, the patient is induced to self-correct. The specialist can monitor both the quantity and quality of activity performed, give feedback to the patient and modify the program. Structured in this way, this type of activity can also represent a viable way to facilitate patients’ adherence to home exercise programs and make the continuation of the treatment path more enjoyable.