Young gamers have fitness of 60-year-olds

Gaming can give you the reaction time of a fighter pilot but the fitness of a 60-year-old, according to a study.

Dr Dominic Micklewright from the University of Essex put top video gamers through a series of physiological and psychological tests to find out how they shape up when compared to elite athletes.

He found that the psychological traits and reaction skills of gamers could often almost match those of elite sportspeople, but their fitness levels were extremely poor.

One leading gamer in his twenties appeared to be slim and healthy with a physique not that dissimilar to an endurance athlete – but had the lung function and aerobic fitness of a 60-year-old chain smoker.

“Perhaps this is the occupational hazard of the professional gamer, who can spend around 10 hours per day in front of a computer screen practicing,” Dr Micklewright said.

“It is always difficult to say how these things will develop, but it could have long term health implications such as an increased risk of heart disease.”

However, other tests showed top game players did share some characteristics with athletes, Dr Micklewright said. “For example, their reaction time, motor skill, competitiveness and emotions were pretty close.

“Elite athletes have unusually high levels of positive feelings and low levels of negative feelings such as depression and fatigue. We saw similar characteristics in gamers, albeit not quite as pronounced.”

The research was carried out for a BBC television program which examines whether video gaming should be classed as a sport.

“I would say definitely not. Gaming shares some characteristics with sport because both are competitive, skill-based and governed by structured rules. But the main distinction which precludes gaming from being a sport is the lack of physical exertion,” said Dr Micklewright.

“However, in the end sport is socially defined, and there are sports, such as snooker and darts, which you might argue are on the boundary. Like video games these require very high levels of skill, but are relatively sedentary and not physically demanding.”