Can exergaming really take the place of going for a brisk walk or doing a few laps in the pool? A study out of Brigham Young University finds that certain video games do count as legitimate exercise for kids.
Regular exercise is wonderful, but it tends to tear us away from the television set, forcing us out into a terrifying world where, at any moment, something could jump out of a bush and kill us. No really, we've seen it on the internet.
Since going outside and looking warily at bushes isn't a real option, we're forced to look to other forms of exercise to keep us from passing out from exhaustion while reaching for the Mountain Dew. We could join a gym, but gyms are expensive and everyone there only pays attention to you because you make them feel better about their own out-of-shape bodies. We could use our vast wealth to build a dedicated fitness centre in our home, but home exercise machines generally prove to convenient for hanging the washing on to retain their originally intended use.
That leaves workout tapes, which are boring, and video games, which are a lot less boring than workout tapes.
Since the Wii exploded onto the scene in 2006, doctors, PE teachers and parents have all harped on the potential benefit such devices could have on children's health. Longtime gamers generally reacted to these stories by pointing to Konami's longer-lived Dance Dance Revolution franchise and muttering "duh".
Now Brigham Young University exercise scientist Bruce Bailey takes Wii Sports, Dance Dance Revolution and several other exercise-themed games and has 39 children between the ages of nine and 13 years old play them in order to determine just how effective they are at replacing more traditional exercises like walking and bush-dodging.
"Previous research looked at these exergames' value as simply replacing what is otherwise a sedentary activity," said Bruce Bailey, BYU assistant professor of exercise science. "But we wanted to see if we can actually increase physical fitness with these types of games – and we think we can."
Bailey had the children take turns playing six different exergames - Wii Sports Boxing, Dance Dance Revolution, LightSpace, Cavix, Cybex Trazer, and Sportwall - while also having them walk on a treadmill at a brisk pace. Participants spent 10-15 minutes on each activity per day, while Bailey and his team measured the results in terms of energy expenditure and overall enjoyment of the games.
Each of the exergaming titles qualified as moderate to brisk exercise, according to current physical activity recommendations.
Walking at three miles per hour for fifteen minutes resulting in a mean metabolic equivalent task value of 4.9. Spending the same time playing Wii Sports Boxing resulted in a 4.2, while a speedy Dance Dance Revolution session worked up a 5.4. Games geared specifically for commercial fitness centres such as Sportwall fared better (7.1), but the results were still rather impressive all around.
Baily also tracked how much children enjoyed the games they were playing, because children are wily creatures. If they don't enjoy what they are doing, they'll find ways to get the job done using the smallest movements possible, cancelling out potential benefits. The study found that while most games were enjoyed equally, more boys enjoyed boxing, more girls enjoyed dancing, and overweight kids enjoyed Sportwall, possibly because it's a team exercise that gives them a chance to be social.
"These games are not going to cure the childhood obesity epidemic," Bailey said. "But they can be one useful tool, among many, in working toward that goal."
I'm just hoping my children get so tired of me playing video games all the time that go outside just to get away from them. Hopefully they'll avoid bushes.