How Exercise Improves Executive Functions: Finding Games and Apps That Promote More Exercise in Kids

Vigorous physical exercise leads to improvement in executive-functioning skills. Studies detailed by John Ratey in his book “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” demonstrate how kids and adults who exercise with energy and regularity can improve skills such as attention, emotional regulation, working memory, cognitive control, and focus. In fact, one of the primary treatments promoted for children and adults with ADHD is regular exercise.

Research supports vigorous exercise as a tool to improve executive functions. There are also data suggesting that the complex body movements used in martial arts, tennis, and fencing can promote these skills, as well. However, getting people to exercise is not always the easiest thing to do. This is particularly true for people who do not include exercise as a part of their daily routine.

Video games, apps, and cool new technologies present promising  strategies to help people exercise more. Tools such as the Fitbit, Jawbone, and the forthcoming Apple Watch help people keep track of their exercise and get positive feedback on a daily basis. Additionally, there are compelling data that suggest that “exergames,” or active video games, can burn calories and also improve executive-functioning skills. Research also indicates that children who play sports video games tend to increase the amount of time they engage in playing sports and being active. Based upon this information, here are some of our recommendations for games that promote exercise and improve executive-functioning skills.

Kinect Sports RivalsKinect Sports Rivals – Compilation motion-based sports game that uses Xbox One’s “Kinect” sensor to detect player movements. Games include bowling, jetski racing, rock climbing, soccer, target shooting, and tennis.


Kinect Sports: Volleyball - Educational Game ReviewKinect Sports: Volleyball – An active game where users gesture into a motion sensor on the XBOX 360 to volley, serve, block, and spike.


Kinect Sports Season 2: BaseballWii Sports: Baseball – Active baseball game for the Nintendo Wii, where players hit, throw, and field using the Wii Remote.



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