NEW YORK — Playing inactive sports like chess or video games don’t have a lot to do with physical fitness — or do they? A new documentary explains how exercise can boost performance levels in the gaming world. Specifically, scientists say working out helps to boost the brain’s ability to think — raising game scores.
Researchers followed 77 physically inactive mind gamers from 21 countries – -who specialize in chess and e-sports (competitive gaming) — as they completed a training program examining the link between exercise and mental performance. After four months, the study found their minds were “significantly sharpened” and they were able to perform at a higher level than before.
The gamers’ cognitive function improved by an average of 10 percent, with problem solving abilities improving by nine percent, short-term memory by 12 percent, and processing speed and alertness by 10 percent. The study’s “head coach,” Andrew Kastor, developed the gamers’ training programs, commissioned by sports brand ASICS.
“These results are astonishing and speak to the power of exercise,” says Kastor in a statement provided by SWNS.
“Many of the gamers couldn’t jog for longer than a minute at the start of the study, so their training programs had to be moderate. One hundred and fifty minutes a week sounds a lot but when you break it down this could be five sets of 30 minutes. No matter your fitness levels, the mental benefits of exercise are accessible to all.”
Exercise helping gamers move up the world rankings
Over the four months, the participants went from doing less than 30 minutes of exercise a week to 150 minutes, focusing on moderate cardio and strength training. Study authors then measured the impact of the exercise program on their mind using a series of computerized cognitive tests and mental assessments designed to examine their processing speed, alertness, planning abilities, concentration levels, and short-term memory.
Participants’ international gaming rankings improved by 75 percent, while the mind gamers’ group confidence levels increased by 44 percent. Concentration improved by 33 percent and anxiety levels plummeted by 43 percent.
Along with showing that exercise improved the participants’ cognitive function and gaming capabilities, it also revealed an uplift in the gamers’ mental well-being, with average “State of Mind” scores improving by 31 percent. Before the study began, the average score was below 58, but this rose to 76 by the end.
“Exercise stimulates cell growth in the brain and rapidly increases blood flow to the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, mechanisms that enable us to better retain memories, process information and problem solve quickly,” Professor Brendon Stubbs, who also worked on the study, tells SWNS.
“If exercise can significantly increase the mental performance of professional mind gamers, imagine what it could do for the rest of us. From increasing focus when revising for an exam or improving alertness before a work presentation, exercise truly can enhance brain power.”
The experiment is now available to stream online
Inspired by the experiment, a camera crew followed four competitive gamers as they engaged in regular exercise to improve their rankings on the international stage. The result was a new documentary, “Mind Games – The Experiment,” narrated by actor and mental health campaigner Stephen Fry. The film follows Kassa Korley, Ryoei Hirano, Ben Pridmore, and Sherry Nhan — who specialize in chess, Mahjong, memory games, and e-sports — as they compete in professional tournaments around the world.
“We have always encouraged utilizing exercise for both physical and mental benefits, but this is the first time we have explored the true impact on cognitive functioning,” says Gary Raucher, EVP of ASICS EMEA.
“Mind Games – The Experiment shows the power of exercise to sharpen the mind and we hope that after watching the documentary, everyone (regardless of their age, body type or fitness level) is inspired to move to help boost their brain.”
72Point writer Gemma Francis contributed to this report.