When Wii Fit hit the market in 2007, consumers went crazy. According to Nintendo, Wii Fit has sold 22.67 million units as of March 2017. What made it so successful was the creation of the new peripheral, the Wii Balance Board, which augmented players' actions onto the screen.

However, more than just being an especially exciting form of gaming, the use of interactive games — also known as "exergames" has both physical and mental benefits for older players.

A recent study, led by the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, concluded that playing exergames could boost brain functioning in clinical populations with cognitive impairments, as well as help maintain cognitive health in aging populations. The study was the first of its kind and was based off 17 separate trials with a total of 926 participants.

Emma Stanmore, principal investigator of the study and nursing professor at the University of Manchester, noted that the findings are important in several ways.

"We found that after 12 weeks, the older users' balance, pain and confidence significantly improved. There were smaller improvements in mood, fatigue and strength," Stanmore told MultiBriefs Exclusive. "We also found that the users reported positive physical, mental and social outcomes such as being able to walk and stand for longer, feeling mentally 'sharper' and enjoying meeting together with other older people to play the exergames."

In 2008, CBS published an article discussing the use of the Wii Fit in hospitals, a phenomena dubbed "Wiihabilitation." According to the article, patients would play games on the Wii Fit during their rehabilitation sessions.

The games required them to perform body movements similar to those in traditional rehabilitation exercises. It was noted that the patients would become so mentally involved in the game they were playing that they became almost oblivious to the pain of physical movement.

When speaking on some of the applications of the study, Stanmore explicitly mentions this type of usage for recovering populations.

"Since the exergames can be played with less clinical supervision than a traditional therapy program, it means therapists could potentially support more people for longer," Stanmore said.

"The users enjoy playing the exergames and so lose track of time or forget their aches and pains which has a positive effect on their recovery. It also gives more control to older people who can exercise when convenient and be remotely supported by therapists."

Although the focus of the study is on older populations, everyone can benefit from exergames as motivation to increase their physical activity during the week.

Gyms have also tapped into this technology by incorporating exergaming elements into their equipment and classes. For example, I have taken part in cycling classes where an exergame system pitted each cycler against the other in a virtual race.

Clearly, the benefits of exergaming are twofold. They can help push people to their full physical capacity while also maintaining and improving mental health in specific populations. These benefits are combined with them just being, well, fun!

Companies like Exergame Fitness have tapped into this niche market of specialized gaming consoles. The American company offers exergame fitness consoles to clubs internationally. Some of their products include indoor virtual cycling, dance and step games, and interactive climbing.

The typical "gamer" immediately calls to mind the image of a pale, inactive and unhealthy person sitting in front of a screen for hours at a time. However, it seems that the evolution of exergaming has only begun, slowly transforming the way in which video games can be played.

With the study published by the University of Manchester being the first of its kind, it's clear there is much more to discover.