VIDEO games aimed at improving fitness could be just as effective as traditional physiotherapy exercises to help people with Multiple Sclerosis, researchers at a North-East university have discovered.

The first study of its kind has shown that ‘exergamers’ who played the Nintendo Wii Fit console were more engaged and more likely to use it regularly over a prolonged period of time than doing a normal workout.

A team of researchers from Teesside University’s School of Health & Social Care carried out a study with over 50 people clinically diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) to examine the effects on their balance, one of the most debilitating effects of the condition.

Those using the Wii Fit, which uses a balance board to simulate exercise in front of a screen, saw an equal improvement in their stability to those using traditional physiotherapy exercise and a significantly greater improvement to those who received no intervention.

Jonathan Robinson, a senior lecturer in research methods at Teesside University, who led the study, said: “People with MS are encouraged to be as active as possible for as long as they can.

“But, one of the biggest problems for physiotherapists in general is getting people to continue with their exercise and, as MS is often self-managed, a lot of people report getting bored and giving up.

“Our research has found that using the Wii Fit to exercise is as beneficial as traditional methods in terms of improving balance, but users find it a lot more enjoyable and engaging. For them, it doesn’t feel like exercise, it feels like playing a game which has the same benefits as exercise.”

He added: “There have been various studies comparing 'exergaming' to traditional physiotherapy exercise, but this is the first three-pronged trial which also compares the methods against people who receive no intervention. I’m now looking into further research about the long term benefits of exergaming for people with MS.”

Researchers at Teesside University are also in the middle of a second project, funded by the Multiple Sclerosis Society, examining whether wearing specially textured insoles can improve the balance and walking ability of people with MS.

Keith Craven, who has had MS for 12 years and is chairman of the Teesside branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, took part in the ‘exergaming’ study with other branch members.

“Everybody was encouraging each other and we created an unofficial league," he said. "This was certainly a simple and quirky way to exercise and something that I would certainly like to continue with.”