Playing a video game used to mean sitting, sedentarily, in front of a screen. But more recently, “exergames” such as Dance Dance Revolution and the Wii Fit have gotten game players off the couch. A study published Monday aims to quantify exactly how much exercise kids who play these video games are getting.
The researchers found that for most commercially available games, the kids expended at least as much energy as they would during “moderate” exercise like walking at a 3 mph — and during some games, they expended significantly more.
“I think if you view this as a tool, there’s enough evidence to suggest this could be a valid option to help kids adhere to an exercise program,” says study author Bruce Bailey, a researcher in the Department of Exercise Science at Brigham Young University.
That’s especially true, Bailey said, because the study also found that the children enjoyed the games, and that overweight children enjoyed them as much or more than non-overweight children.
Bailey and his co-author Kyle McGinnis, of the Department of Exercise and Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, tested 39 boys and girls between 9 and 13 years old as the kids played six “exergames.” Three of the games were made for at-home game systems — including PlayStation’s Dance Dance Revolution and a Nintendo Wii Boxing game — and three were commercial games available at places like schools and fitness centers.
The researchers used a machine that measured the volume of air the kids breathed in and out, plus the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the breath, to measure how much energy the kids were expending.
They found that a Wii boxing game used just under the amount of energy that walking at 3 mph would, while Dance Dance Revolution used just above that amount of energy. Some of the commercial game systems used in fitness centers and schools used even more.
But Bailey and others stress that the results don’t mean that “exergames” should be considered a substitute for other kinds of physical activity.
“They’re better as a substitute for sedentary games than as a substitute for going outside,” says James Sallis, a psychologist at San Diego State University who studies exercise and obesity. Sallis wrote an editorial about the study that was published Monday along with the research in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
Sallis also points out that the study examined how much energy kids used while playing the games — but not how likely they are to stick to an exercise regimen built around them.
One study, for example, by University of California, San Francisco pediatrician Kristine Madsen, found that only two of 30 children prescribed to use exergames to help lose weight kept playing the games weekly for six months.
“Some of the positives about this study are that video games are thought of as a really sedentary activity … and it’s great that these games might transform it to more active time,” Madsen says. “But thinking that this might take the place of [live, outdoor sports] is probably not the right approach.”