Feeling down? Fire up the Wii console, invite the grandkids over and start lobbing that virtual tennis ball or baseball.

A 2010 pilot study at the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine suggests that video “exergames” can help seniors who have a form of clinically significant depression known as subsyndromal depression (SSD) improve their mood, cognitive functioning and mental health.

According to study co-author Colin Depp, PhD, a research fellow at the Stein Institute, La Jolla, Calif., and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, older adults are several times more likely to suffer from SSD than from major depression – the kind that’s often treated with medicine and talk therapy. The study, published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, suggests that fitness video games can be an entertaining way to beat the blues.

For 12 weeks, adults ages 63 to 94 with SSD and conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis and diabetes played a Nintendo Wii Sports game for 35 minutes three times a week. More than one-third of participants had a 50 percent or greater reduction in depressive symptoms. They also reported that the games were “satisfying,” “fun and varied” and “challenged me to do better.”

Wii games inspire players with positive feedback, tracking their progress and egging them on, at times with the roar of a cheering crowd. As Depp observes, this type of reinforcement helps older adults with SSD “enjoy the experience of success, which is important for people who are depressed.”

So if you’re feeling down in the dumps – or someone you care about is – give these exergames a try. Brighter spirits could be only a hop, skip and a jump away.