By Gabe Sanders Ph.D., NSCA-CSCS
The term exergaming is derived from the advent of movement-based video games and is becoming more popular with virtual reality (VR) types of gaming. In the past, many researchers have found that exergaming can increase physiological responses to a greater extent than traditional seated video games. This should not come as a surprise because exergames require a person to stand on their feet and move their arms, which naturally increases heart rate and breathing rates.
Are they challenging enough?
The main question researchers have pondered in the past is if these exergames are challenging enough to produce an exercise response that is beneficial for enhancing the health and wellbeing of the people playing the exergames. In fact, some researchers have found that these games increase the enjoyment of engaging in higher intensity exercise, but they do not consistently result in a participant engaging in intensities great enough to be considered exercise.
The keyword is consistent. Therefore, these exergames and VR games are a good mode of exercise for older adults, unfit individuals looking to start an exercise program, or for disabled individuals as most research agrees this type of exercise is enjoyable for most people.
Exergaming vs. regular exercise?
However, to truly improve fitness, an individual must aim to engage in higher intensity exercise, regularly. Exergaming is a good place to start, and it can even be a great way to be physically active in place of seated video games, but exergaming should not replace good old-fashioned exercise. Improving one’s health requires their heart to become more fit, their blood cholesterol level to be lowered, and optimal health requires a person to maintain or lose body fat while increasing lean muscle.
To accomplish those health goals, a person must engage in weekly strength training (2-3 days per week), cardiorespiratory fitness for at least 15-20 minutes per exercise session, and each session must be 30-45 minutes in duration for at least 3 days per week.
In addition to adults, kids need to be actively playing, running outside or on the playground every day for at least an hour and an hour is considered the absolute minimum.
In summary, exergames are a great way to be physically active, but they are not intended to improve physical fitness in kids and adults as a mode of exercise.
It may be a good therapeutic modality for some people with movement disabilities or extremely unfit individuals, but for most, it is not an ideal form of exercise to improve health, body composition, and wellbeing.
Farrow, Matthew, et al. “Virtual-reality exergaming improves performance during high-intensity interval training.” European journal of sport science 19.6 (2019): 719-727.
Perrot, Alexandra, et al. “Effect of Exergaming on Physical Fitness, Functional Mobility, and Cognitive Functioning in Adults With Down Syndrome.” American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 126.1 (2021): 34-44.
McDonough, Daniel J., et al. “Comparison of College Students' Blood Pressure, Perceived Exertion, and Psychosocial Outcomes During Virtual Reality, Exergaming, and Traditional Exercise: An Exploratory Study.” Games for Health Journal 9.4 (2020): 290-296.
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