Interactive video games can be as good as outdoor sports when it comes to keeping young people fit. That's according to a new study which finds that some video games are as effective as moderate-to-vigorous exercise at boosting the metabolism rates of children.
Parents and educators often worry that young people spend too much time sitting in front of their computers playing video games, and too little time exercising. But the research team discovered that playing certain kinds of interactive video games is a pretty good way to work up a sweat.
"So what we found was that these types of video games can increase physical activity to moderate-to-vigorous levels, assuming that the appropriate games and appropriate levels are chosen," says Bruce Bailey, professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University. "And, if they participate, it can be something that can meet the guidelines for physical activity."
Bailey and his colleagues studied the effects of various types of popular interactive video games in which players' physical movements are transferred electronically to computer-screen action. They worked with 39 children whose average age was 11 years old.
The children were asked to play several so-called exergames, which include boxing, dancing and soccer video games. For the sake of comparison, they were also asked to walk on a treadmill set at three miles per hour for equal lengths of time. The results showed that the children utilized more energy on five out of the six active games than on the treadmill.
"It probably will not solve the epidemic of obesity but it could be a useful tool for parents and health professionals who are trying to increase physical activity in children, help them be more physically active," says Bailey, "especially in those children who enjoy video gaming and maybe don’t enjoy other forms of physical activity."
Experts agree that television watching, web-surfing and other sedentary pastimes have contributed to the epidemic of obesity in American children. The new video games, which promote physical activity, can help counter this trend and perhaps encourage kids to engage in other forms of exercise and outdoor sports.
"Kids need to get outside," says Dr. Deb Lonzer, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic, who finds the results encouraging. "There are a lot of other ways that they need to get exercise but this is a great starting point for kids because you can do it year round. It keeps them engaged, it’s fun, and it actually works to help them get their metabolic rates up, burn calories, and lose some weight."
The researchers note that not all exergames are equally beneficial. For example, Wii's boxing game involves more movement than Wii golf, and levels within the same game can involve very different levels of physical activity. Also, the study doesn't give a green light to all forms of video games. Researchers say more study is needed to measure other physiological effects of exergaming, and to see if it really does inspire kids in general to become more physically active.