Could Playing Video Games Motivate Breast Cancer Survivors to Exercise?

Grantee: Elizabeth Lyons, PhD
Institution: University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston
Research Area: Cancer Control and Prevention: Psychosocial and Behavioral Research
Grant Term: 1/1/2015 to 12/31/2020

The Challenge: Regular exercise improves quality of life for postmenopausal breast cancer survivors and can help lower the chance of cancer coming back. But many of these women aren’t getting enough exercise. Studies have shown that behavior-change programs, activity trackers, and mobile apps can help people get more exercise, but using these tools doesn’t seem to help them keep it up over time.

The Research: Elizabeth, Lyons, PhD, MPH, is investigating whether role-playing video games will both persuade people to exercise more and to keep doing it longer. Role-playing video games have a storyline that allow players to see themselves as an active character. These games have been shown to lead to narrative transportation, which means using a story, or narrative, to increase enjoyment during exercise.

As part of a clinical trial, Lyons and her team separated 90 postmenopausal, sedentary, overweight breast cancer survivors into 2 groups. Both groups received an iPod, an activity monitor, and short phone counseling for 6 months. One group also received 2 story-based role-playing video games on the iPod.

Lyons wants to see whether the women who use the role-playing video games will exercise more and be physically healthier as well as have a higher quality of life, than those who don’t play the video games.

The Goal and Long-term Possibilities: Finding ways to improve women’s motivation to exercise has the potential to greatly improve the health of breast cancer survivors in different ways — and could eventually help all women.