Potential vs. Actual Benefits of Exergames

Interactive, digital exercise games (think Wii Boxing and Dance Dance Revolution) can lead to a high level of energy expenditure by teens.

But do these games have real value as exercise substitutes in the long run?

The increase in teens’ “screen time” — watching television or videos, using a computer, surfing the Internet, and playing video games — has led to an increased interest in activity-promoting video gaming or video games that require physical movement and feature “real-life” player movement.

Active video games have the potential to increase energy expenditure during otherwise sedentary video gaming and may provide a viable adjunct to more traditional exercise, according to a recent study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

The 39 boys and girls (average age 11.5 years) played 6 exergames — Dance Dance Revolution, LightSpace (Bug Invasion), Nintendo Wii (Boxing), Cybex Trazer (Goalie Wars), Sportwall, and Xavix (J-Mat) — and also walked on a treadmill at a moderate 3 miles per hour pace for 10 minutes.

All of the exergames led to higher energy expenditures than walking and spurred high-intensity physical activity.

Everyone said they enjoyed the exergames. Those who were overweight seemed to enjoy them the most.

But the researchers admit that “the potential of these games to promote fitness and extended periods of moderate to vigorous activity in normal and overweight youth has not been evaluated.”

One such study has looked at one of these exergames and found it doesn’t hold teens attention for very long.

The Health Games Study is a 2-year study to explore how exergames could be designed to improve player health behaviors and outcomes.

“We were interested in exploring the duration of game play over time,” principal investigator Gregory Norman, PhD, of Department of Family and Preventive Medicine University of California, San Diego, told me.

Some 63 boys and girls (average age 13) were randomized to play one of 4 versions of Xavix sports games –tennis, bowling, boxing, or J-mat — for 4 weeks.

Norman shared the latest results of the study with me. Weekly game log entries showed that 98% played during week 1, 47.5% played at least once during week 2, 55.7% played during week 3, and 37.7% played during week 4.

Only 1 in 5 played the exergame at least once during all 4 weeks, notes Norman.

His conclusion: the teens did not sustain exergame play over the 4 weeks and decreased play substantially after the first week, which is consistent with other studies that have examined exergame play over time.

“Exergames will continue to become more sophisticated in the kinds of activity experiences that can be offered. For example, more game platforms (Xbox Kinect) will track both upper body and lower limb movements to encourage more physical activity that will increase energy expenditure,” Norman says.

Yes, an exergame is better than watching TV or Facebooking friends for hours on end.

But teens still to find a fun way to get in regular physical activity that they will stick with, hopefully for the rest of their lives.

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