Skip to content

Health & Balance

Believe It or Not -- Computer Games Can Be Healthy

New research shows that some computer games can reduce your stress and lift your spirits.
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Magazine - Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Cynthia Whitehead is a word person. A lawyer who drafts environmental and development legislation, the 60-year-old from Oakland, Calif. regularly taxes her left hemisphere -- the side of the brain responsible in most people for language and analysis. So when her stress level goes up, she turns to Bejeweled, a computer game, for relief.

"I feel myself getting into a groove," she says. "My unconscious mind is taking over and running with it. It feels like exercising a muscle that doesn't get used enough.”

Recommended Related to Mind, Body, Spirit

Your Guide to Never Feeling Tired Again

By Nancy Rones22 ways to tackle life's biggest energy zappers. Every day, 2.2 million Americans complain of being tired. Most of us chalk it up to having too much to do and not enough time to do it in, especially during extra-busy periods. But often the true culprits are our everyday habits: what we eat, how we sleep, and how we cope emotionally. Read on for some simple, recharging changes that can help you tackle all of the energy stealers in your life. Energize Your Diet ...

Read the Your Guide to Never Feeling Tired Again article > >

That groove she's talking about may be an equalization of activity in the two hemispheres of the brain. Each side tends to handle different functions, but at their healthiest, their activity is balanced in a state known as synchrony, according to Carmen Russoniello, PhD, professor of recreation and leisure studies at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. He says research shows that an imbalance in the strength of brain activity in either hemisphere can result in depression. But as your brain moves into synchrony, you feel more upbeat and energized.

Computer Games as Stress Relief

Russoniello conducted a six-month study on the effects of playing simple computer games. The study, funded in part by a game company, shows the activity can reduce stress, lift players' moods, and balance left- and right-brain activity in the frontal cortex.

He found an increase in the brain's electrical activity that goes along with a sunnier disposition, as well as a decrease in heart rate among participants.

Surprised? We've all heard about the risks of computer games, from eyestrain to addiction. But there's growing evidence that the right kind of game can benefit both your mind and your body. Studies comparing avid video game players to nongamers showed the players had sharper vision and the ability to switch between mental tasks more rapidly.

Not every computer game will improve your mood and help you relax. So-called casual computer games, which are easy to learn and require no special skills, can provide the right balance of repetition and reward with just a few minutes of play, Russoniello says. "These games draw you in because they're fun. One reward helps push you toward the next one." As you play, he adds, your breathing might slow and your blood pressure could fall, slightly decreasing your core body temperature and making you feel sleepy.

Maybe this effect is why Whitehead likes to play after 10 p.m. "It can calm me down," she says. "If I'm working too hard to do other things, I know Bejeweled is there."

Today on WebMD

woman in yoga class
6 health benefits of yoga.
beautiful girl lying down of grass
10 relaxation techniques to try.
 
mature woman with glass of water
Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water a day?
coffee beans in shape of mug
Get the facts.
 
jet plane landing at sunset
Slideshow
poinsettias
Quiz
 
Hungover man
Slideshow
Welcome mat and wellington boots
Slideshow
 
Woman worn out on couch
Article
Happy and sad faces
Quiz
 
Fingertip with string tied in a bow
Article
laughing family
Quiz