Exercise video games are used by many people worldwide to adopt a regular exercise routine, help with weight loss or to simply play with friends. But new research suggests the popular games could help people with type 2 diabetes to improve control of their glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when cells in the body that produce insulin are unable to make enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work effectively – known as insulin resistance.

The condition is more common in those aged over 40, and obesity has long been known as a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.

But previous research has shown that this risk can be reduced through adopting regular physical activity and a healthy diet.

Therefore, researchers from Germany decided to conduct a randomized control trial in order to improve levels of physical activity of 220 people aged between 50 and 75 who suffered from diabetes.

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A fun game with health benefits? Researchers say the Wii Fit Plus exercise game could help individuals with type 2 diabetes have better control over their glucose levels.

Of the participants, 120 were randomized to use the Wii Fit Plus exercise game from Nintendo as the primary form of physical activity for a period of 12 weeks, while the other 100 subjects received routine care. The routine care patients were then given the exercise game to use after the initial 12-week period.

The Wii exercise game involves the use of a Nintendo Wii console with a hand-held control and a Wii balance board, which participants stand on during exercise. Both the hand-held control and balance board records a player’s movements.

At the beginning and end of the 12 weeks, participants had their weight, blood pressure and glucose levels measured following an 8-hour fasting period.

Results of the study, published in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders, revealed that the group using the Wii Fit Plus exercise game had better control of their glucose levels, compared with the group who received routine care, and they also experienced a reduction in glycated hemoglobin – signaling a decrease in elevated blood glucose.

Furthermore, the exercise game group also showed a reduction in weight, compared with the routine care group, and demonstrated an increase in overall quality of life. The number of patients suffering from depression also reduced.

On monitoring the routine care patients once they were given the Wii exercise game, it was found that they demonstrated similar results to the group who used the game initially.

Commenting on the findings, Prof. Stephan Martin, of the West German Centre for Diabetes and Heath and senior author of the study, says:

Given the positive attitudes of the participants and the limited restrictions for gaming at home, exercise games may potentially be used in a home setting as a tool to reduce inactive behavior in people with Type 2 diabetes.”

The researchers note that the completion rate in the study was only 67%, but they point out that this rate is similar to other studies looking at physical activity in older individuals.

They say their findings suggest that in the future, exercise games should be created specifically for individuals with type 2 diabetes. Through these, they say glucose control should be optimized and performed exercises should be transferrable online in order to increase adherence.

Previous research has revealed other potential benefits of the Wii. Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that playing the Wii could help doctors to become better surgeons, while other research suggests that playing the Wii Fit could help patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to breathe better.