By Jonathon Stavres MS, ACSM-EP-C
Many parents have found themselves wondering how to pry their children/ teenager away from video games and get them outside to play. The truth is that video games have become an integral part of reality for many of today's youth; and these games consume large blocks of time from kids that could be spent being physically active.
One of the first interventions for adding physical activity to video games was introduced by the Nintendo Wii, a video game that responded to the movement of a controller through space. Wii golf, bowling, and tennis became very popular games, and showed a lot of promise for helping to reverse the deleterious effect of video games on our youth's physical activity level. While the original Wii games have decreased in popularity over the years, the concept of exer-games (or exercise- video games) is still very alive today.
Research and Exer-games
A study Bronner et. al (2013) found that physical exertion (MET) levels positively correlated to enjoyment and immersion during certain dance and rhythm exer-games (StepMania, Wii Just Dance, and Kinect Dance Central). Another study, Howe et. al (2015) examined the energy expenditure during six active video games and found that those games elicited an activity level of (6.1 ± .2 METS) which is qualified as moderate-vigorous physical activity.
As the authors suggest, this can easily contribute to the American College of Sports Medicine’s recommendation of 150 min/week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. These results both illustrate that exer-games do provide adequate physical activity during play.
However, it does not address adherence.
There is conflicting evidence regarding whether children will adhere to an exer-game based exercise program or not. One of the methodological issues with this type of research is that video games are largely based on popularity, and new video games coming out regularly. One consistent finding across studies is that when children/ adolescents are actively playing the exer-games, they are enjoying the game.
In order to promote adherence, access to sedentary video games (i.e. controller based video games) needs to be minimized, while access to a variety of exer-games should be increased. While you don't necessarily want to provide so many choices of exer-games that it becomes overwhelming, there needs to be enough of a selection to maintain interest.
In conclusion, research indicates that exercise based video games can benefit children and adolescents by increasing their time spent physically active. Furthermore, the accessibility to this method of physical activity may be improved by the introduction of new games and gaming platforms.
Bronner, S., Pinsker, R., & Noah, J. A. (2013). Energy cost and game flow of 5 exer-games in trained players. Am J Health Behav, 37(3), 369-380. doi: 10.5993/ajhb.37.3.10
Howe, C. A., Barr, M. W., Winner, B. C., Kimble, J. R., & White, J. B. (2015). The physical activity energy cost of the latest active video games in young adults. J Phys Act Health, 12(2), 171-177. doi: 10.1123/jpah.2013-0023