While playing video games might not seem like the most physically demanding activity, new research out of McGill University suggests that when players exercise before playing a game, they play better.
A 15-minute bout of exercise was enough to boost video game performance, the study authors found. And most participants benefited from exercise, regardless of their fitness level or feelings about exercise.
For the study, 20 young video game users played the popular multiplayer computer game League of Legends— a strategic game that involves working with a team to take down an enemy using various weapons — on two separate days. One day, they completed a short bout of high-intensity cardiovascular exercise before playing, and the other day they rested before logging on. Researchers then assessed their performance and asked participants questions about how they felt during exercise.
Video game performance, which was defined as the number of targets eliminated in the game and the accuracy of those attacks, was better overall when participants worked out beforehand.
The reason? Short bouts of exercise have been shown to help boost your brain functions.
Specifically, exercise can increase attention and decision-making speed, Marc Roig, study author and professor at McGill University, tells CNBC Make It in an email.
At the same time, it improves “executive function,” which is “the cognitive capacity that allows us to make accurate decisions rapidly, focusing on information which is relevant and filtering redundant information,” Roig says. “Since these are the type of cognitive processes that most video games demand, it was not that surprising that this type of exercise improved video game performance.”
More research needs to be done to determine how physical activity could help with other types of video games that require different skills or involve different tasks.
But the findings from this new study are significant because they suggest that “exercise and video games do not need to be seen as antagonistic activities,” Roig says.
Video game use as been associated with low levels of physical activity and increased screen use. “It’s precisely this group of people, the non-exercisers, the ones we should be most concerned about,” Roig says. In the United States, 72% of men and 49% of women ages 18 to 29 play video games, according to a 2018 Pew survey.
Other studies suggest that gamers at the elite level face stress levels similar to professional athletes, emphasizing that video game players need to focus on supporting their health.