How to stay cognitively fit: the link between physical exercise and esports – Magdalena Kowal

Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, all of us must stay at home and adhere to the self-isolation restrictions put in place. This may hinder our levels of efficiency when it comes to work, as many people may find it challenging to focus on work duties at home and meet daily goals, even with an optimal home office setup. In light of the current situational demands this has led many people to look for the best ways to optimise their time and to keep their minds active. For this reason, I would love to share a new inspiration and give you all a little boost for your efficiency, and present resources we all can happily use from the comfort of our home.

While it has been well established that we can improve mood and cognition through exercise, evidence is mounting that action video games can exert similar effects. At the Esports Science Research Lab in Lero at the University of Limerick, our recent work looks to demonstrate the relationship between exercise, action video gaming, and cognition. Importantly, not only do we see that exercise and action video game play can improve similar cognitive abilities over time, but we see that we don’t need to be lifting all the weights in the gym to get the benefits from exercise. There is evidence that even low to moderate aerobic physical activity can improve cognitive abilities like attention, memory and task-switching abilities. High intensity training is also promising for these cognitive skills, however the effects only appear to be evident after an hour or two, following recovery from physical fatigue.

Figure 1. Action video games and physical exercise both show positive effects on cognition.

Because action video games (AVGs) are fast paced and place a unique demand on a number of cognitive abilities to ensure successful performance, it stands to reason that AVG training may enhance cognitive ability over time. As you can see from the Figure 1 above, that is exactly what we are seeing with our work, with evidence mounting that AVG training can improve the same cognitive abilities as physical exercise.

So while exercise is important to help improve your cognitive performance and efficiency, for those who struggle to exercise or want an alternate way to switch off while at the same time exercise the mind, consider playing for an hour a popular action video game like Fortnite, League of Legends, Apex among many others to be socially and cognitively active. Also, don’t forget to invite your family, friends, or work colleagues as many action video games are team-based and thus, despite our need to physically distance ourselves, promotes social interaction and a fun competitive way to keep in touch with loved ones.  For more details regarding this and other research from the ESRL – stay tuned!

Magdalena Kowal is a Research Assistant at Lero Irish Software Centre and at the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick.  Her research interests are in Cognitive, Sport and Performance psychology and esports. Contact Magdalena at or on twitter @Mag_Kowal.

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