Video games that encourage physical movement, such as those played on the Nintendo Wii, reduced depressive symptoms in older adults, according to a study published in the March issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and conducted by researchers at the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California at San Diego.

Experts think that subsyndromal depression (SSD), which is defined by milder and fewer symptoms than major depression, occurs much more frequently than major depression in older adults. According to UC San Diego press material, this is likely exacerbated by the fact that fewer than 5 percent of older adults get as much exercise as doctors recommend. Lack of exercise can worsen depression, while depression decreases a person’s motivation and ability to exercise.

To determine whether video games that require physical activity can alleviate depression, Dilip Jeste, MD, from the School of Medicine at UC San Diego, and his colleagues enrolled 19 adults ranging in age from 63 to 94. The participants played the Nintendo Wii sports games for 35 minutes, three times per week, for 12 weeks.

Jeste’s team found that more than one third of the participants experienced a reduction in depressive symptoms of 50 percent or more. There were no injuries or other adverse events from playing the video games.

Jeste cautions that the study is small and needs to be replicated in larger studies with a control group. He also warns that the games do come with a risk for injury and that older people will have to play them with care.