Video games in action

Whether you’re sitting on the couch frantically mashing buttons while battling monsters or landing your first punches while competing with your friends, some video games look like they could really break your heart.

In the US, more than half of the population plays video games every day, according to the authors of a study published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2019. Others researchers found children and adolescents have increased their play time during the COVID-19 pandemic. But with this surge in gaming among the general public and the holidays behind us, when will it be most new video games are released and soldHow does playing video games really affect our hearts?

Scientists have only recently begun to explore the complex relationship between video games and heart health—and the effects that different types of games can have. Their findings highlight the importance of not letting games affect our sleep, having balanced activities and simply moving our bodies more.

Are video games stressful or not?

Scientists are just beginning to learn more about how gaming — and the stress response that gaming can trigger — affects the heart, says Nieka Goldberg, a cardiologist and medical director at Atria New York City.

“There are some studies that look at the response that people have in terms of when they play video games, and video games trigger a stress response,” says Goldberg, who explains that some video games can cause blood pressure and heart rate to increase in certain players .

Read more: The hidden science behind the biggest video games of 2020

But different types of video games can have different stress outcomes. The researchers found that participants who played Mortal Kombatfrenetic fighting game, had a greater increase in blood pressure – indicating a cardiovascular stress response – compared to those who played the (comparatively modest) puzzle game tetrisaccording to 2019 Frontiers in Psychology study.

In another a small study with 14 active gamersthe researchers found Mario Kart players had the highest average increase in heart rate during 30 minutes of play. Scientists also observe that players of Dark Souls III, a game known for its grueling difficulty level, had the highest heart rate (127 beats per minute) at any point during the 30 minutes. (At rest, a normal heart rate is usually between 60 to 100 beats per minute.)

Cardiologist David Winchester of the University of Florida College of Medicine emphasizes that more studies are needed to understand the long-term effects of video games on heart health. However, Winchester notes that it’s one thing if your blood pressure goes up temporarily while you’re playing Mario Kart; it’s another thing if your blood pressure has been chronically elevated for a long period of time.

“This kind of chronic elevation of blood pressure is a major, major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, you know, a whole bunch of other things,” Winchester says.

However, people also use video games as a way to help stress relief, or as an “anti-stress ritual,” meaning it helps them relax and take their mind off reality while providing a sense of implementation and control. The scientists behind Mario Kart The study also found that some softer games such as Animal Crossing and The Simsin fact lowered heart rate of the participants up to 5% during the 30 minutes.

Read more: The surprising mental health benefits of video games

But then again, not all games (or gamers) are created equal: a study published in the diary Heart rhythm in 2022 found that playing certain games — especially war games — can play a role in triggering arrhythmiasor irregular heart rhythm, in “susceptible” children.

Still, Goldberg emphasized the small sample size of the 2022 study, also noting that participants were already at risk for arrhythmias. Similarly, Winchester explains that “you can have heart events doing anything” by watching reruns of The Great British Baking Show to do sports.

“I’m not particularly concerned that this is happening as a result of video games, as much as you know people are playing them instead of going outside and being physically active, which I think is one of the best ways to promote a healthy heart Winchester adds.

Do video games encourage positive or negative behavior?

It’s tempting to assume that video games are inherently bad for your health. For one thing, researchers found that gamers tend to lead more sedentary lifestyles than non-gamers, according to a A 2022 survey of 306 colleges students.

In addition to being less physically active, some people just can’t put down the controller and may stay up at all hours of the night to play. In 2018, the World Health Organization added gaming disorder to its International Classification of Diseasesdefined as “a pattern of gaming behavior characterized by impaired control over play [and] increased priority given to gaming over other activities.’

“Getting less than seven hours of sleep a night has been linked to arrhythmias, high blood pressure and even weight gain,” Goldberg says. “So that affects how we take care of our hearts.”

Read more: Video game addiction is on the rise. Here’s what it looks like

Yet video games have the potential to help promote healthier behaviors and positive outcomes. A little research revealed that children ages 10 to 12 who played specific video games designed to help increasing fruit and vegetable intake ate more of these foods afterward, even though it had no real effect on their physical activity.

To encourage more physical activity, there are also exercise video games or EVGs that can actually help us improve our fitness level. In a 2022 studythe researchers found that participants who used EVG Ring Fit Adventure over the course of 4 weeks had a faster time to complete a 1,600-meter run than those who simply maintained their normal exercise habits. EVGs can be used as an additional tool to promote activity, such as during Covid-19 pandemicor in certain populations such as senior adults, where they can also help with depression, improve quality of life and provide connection.

“When people do connections and social support, it’s positive for cardiovascular health,” Goldberg explains. “However, everything should be done in moderation so that gaming is an activity and it’s just one of the activities you engage in.”

In general, Goldberg says you should be on the lookout for signs that video games are having a negative impact on your heart. (For example, if you’re irritable, gaining weight, not sleeping, having heart palpitations, or just playing more than you’re doing, it might be time to step back.) Goldberg also recommends that people take time to de-stress after playing certain games , which looks different for everyone.

In short, if you’re thinking of grabbing the controller and plopping down on the couch, maybe do some push-ups or go for a run first. Your heart certainly won’t be disappointed if you do.

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