Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

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Why do we need video games to enjoy exercise?

with 8 comments

I had mixed feelings – I often do – when I read that children were more likely to get their daily quota of exercise when it was combined with video games.

The University of Cumbria in England, which carried out a study into children’s exercise habits, found that youngsters can get their daily exercise if they combine it with CERTAIN video games.

It found that 90 per cent of the children interviewed said they wanted to play video games at the same time as exercising because it helps to reduce the boredom factor.

But, and there is always a big BUT with these types of research, the sample was only 50 children aged between 11 and 12 and they used exercise equipment combined with a set of video games provided by Gamercize.

Hardly a massive poll of children, is it? And just the one kind of video game provider? Smacks of a bit of desperate marketing to me.

The research said that children could play their games only while they maintained movement on the fitness machines. If they stopped exercising, the games paused.

From the small sample of children who took part in this research, it was found that only one in five of them managed to fit in one hour of exercise a day, while more than 75 per cent played video games found that their 60 minute gaming sessions were easily accommodated into their busy daily schedules.

But combining the two, it is suggested in this study, offers the best of both worlds.

So why do I have mixed feelings about this?

I’d agree that this gaming-with-exercise model is better than nothing. Even the National Obesity Forum acknowledged that when he was asked to comment about the study.

The clinical director Dr David Haslam said that physical inactivity in children was a major cause of the obesity epidemic.

 “This study begins to show that by providing more novel opportunities, it is possible to increase a child’s activity in a painless and effective way,” he said.

Video games and so on certainly have their place in our lives and we are lucky to have many forms of media at our disposal. Children are fickle creatures; their attention spans are short and, from my experience, need not so much caring and nurturing on a daily basis, but constant access to activities and diversions.

Parents are taking on the role of entertainment managers: they are frightened to let their children get bored. If they are not ferrying them hither and thither to an organised activity (academic or otherwise) then they are parked in front of their gaming consoles. At least, the argument goes, we know where they are and they are safe.

That is fair comment to a point, but we parents are culpable in this, surely?

It’s up to us to get them out and about. If we slob around, watching TV, playing on the PlayStation and pretending that doing Wii sport is a physical activity to replace “proper” exercise or even a brisk walk in the park, is it any wonder that’s what the children do? They model their behaviour on what the adults do.

And before you ask, I’m as guilty as the next parent. I don’t go to the gym, but I do limit the use of the DS/Wii and whatever other small screen there is to occupy them.

And if they do kick up a fuss about leaving the DS behind so they can take part in a family bike ride, then remember who is in charge. I’m rather hoping it is the adult in the family.

It is our duty as parents to go out and enjoy some sport; to take them to the swimming pool; even to take a walk to the park and feed the ducks. It is all exercise.

So while Gamercize et al have their place (and even Derbyshire Sport introduced Gamercize equipment into schools this year), we must put it into perspective.

We don’t need the help of machines to have fun exercising. Just see any child running around a park with their friends.

You never know, I might even take up my own advice …


8 Responses

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  1. Video game exercise _is_ real exercise. For example, DDR (the dancemat games) have introduced many former couch potatoes to the world of exercise. E.g. here in Finland (and I’m sure elsewhere, too), you see youngsters playing on public dancemats, they are drenched in sweat and have water bottles with them.

    You try a dancemat game at a fairly high difficulty and then say it isn’t real exercise. 😛 It’s also damn fun (I don’t really play them myself due to disability, but I know people who spend upwards of 20 hours a week doing that – they wouldn’t if it wasn’t great fun).

    Of course it would be optimal to have many types of exercise, but with games like Wii Fit you can do yoga and muscle exercises besides aerobic exercise. And I’m willing to bet that making yoga a computer game is the only way you can even imagine getting a 9-12 year old boy to try it… With Wii Fit you can score both points and minutes, keeping a competitive edge especially if you have multiple children playing it.

    Swimming, biking etc may feel more like real exercise and sure may keep you more in touch with the “real world”, but those aren’t for everyone. I for one never learnt to ride a bike, and I know many people who hate swimming.

    Maija Haavisto

    December 4, 2008 at 12:07 pm

  2. This is why I have mixed feelings, Maija. I can see the appeal – I’m considering getting Wii Fit and have done the Wii Sport (hurting my shoulder in the process after too energetic bout of bowling!), but wonder if we are becoming more reliant – too reliant – on video games.


    December 4, 2008 at 12:14 pm

  3. Hi Jane

    Thanks for your views, they are echoed by a great many parents (including myself) frustrated by the changes in children’s play from the traditional outdoors our generation is used to into the flickering screens of video play.

    I’ll just point out a slight misinterpretation you have, Gamercize is a fitness accessory that changes existing games from sedentary to becoming active gaming. The games the kids play are exactly the same as the ones that keep them indoors, even when the weather is fine outside.

    I recognise the short-lived attention spans of children which is why the ethos of Gamercize is to support all games, on all consoles. The above study involved PS2 only, but we have similar results using Gamecube, Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii. The feedback from a pilot for the Derby schools you mentioned was – with 130 primary school children showed over 97% engagement. We don’t get that level of engagement out of traditional PE.

    It is my experience that uptake of physical activity, in any form is a good thing, and will lead to more ability and confidence to progress into traditional PA. The ultimate goal is to help kickstart active lifestyles.

    I’ll leave you with this summary to ponder..

    “…I know as a dad that the reason why video games are so popular is because they are so good, and kids will not leave them. It’s better to be smart and work with the games, making children more active in the process.”
    Dr Ian Campbell, Medical Director of Weight Concern and Associate Specialist University Hospital Nottingham

    Thanks for sharing your views!


    Richard Coshott
    CEO Gamercize UK


    December 4, 2008 at 1:12 pm

  4. I appreciate your comments, Richard, and thank you for pointing out the misinterpretation (which I got from the press release…).


    December 4, 2008 at 1:36 pm

  5. As a preventive care specialist in a 170-physician medical group here in Southern California, I’m seeing kids for health issues who are the ones who don’t like to exercise, do PE, etc. But they sure do love their video games…and tend to be very good at them, too. So my goal is to figure a way to motivate them to be more physically active, for their health and life’s sake. Your question about whether kids will get “too reliant” on video games for physical activity implies that there is a quality difference between running on a Xavix pad and running on dirt. From the various research studies we’ve done and that I’ve read, and also from what I’ve observed in our Xrtainment Zone lab, if you’re running fast, the heart doesn’t seem to care if it’s via playing a video game or doing it outside.

    What I’ve picked up from those who question the use of exergaming as an intervention is that it is “different” than the way we grew up being physically active. I grew up in Michigan where the summers saw us playing a mile away down by the river next to a huge corn field till dusk. We just ran around all day! And now we see kids staying indoors staring at screens–TV, computer, video games, etc.–instead. Yes, we should live a balanced life, and yes, we parents should be the ones in charge, but at the same time, I don’t believe that exergaming and video games will chain people indoors and make them all zombies.

    Whenever there is a new technological shift, it is natural to expect resistance from the status quo. This is not new, when you look at the historical timeline of the telephone, radio, TV, etc. All were feared to doom humanity when they were first introduced. Now, we just look at the as tools.

    From the healthcare clinical perspective, we are losing the war on childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes. What we currently have isn’t working. Exergaming, for the first time, seems to have a huge potential in making a dent in the current trends, especially with the very type of kids I see as patients on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for “traditional sports” and activities. I’ve helped start and organized a local kid’s triathlon, which is now going on it’s 6th year. My 11 year old daughter is involved in ballet and is an age-group swimmer, where she swims close to 2 hrs M-F, year round (she recently swam over 3 miles in 69 mins non-stop, so she’s in pretty good shape). She belongs to a church youth group where they just finished a 15-mile hike a few weekends ago. So we’re all for an active outdoor lifestyle.

    But the patients I’m seeing are NOT doing this, and for the most part, aren’t even physically able to do so, even if they wanted to! That’s where exergaming can come in and get them started on a physically active lifestyle, and then stick with it long enough to see some real improvements in their health. Getting most overweight kids to run a mile on the track is like pulling teeth. Get those same kids to “run” while playing a video game and you can’t get them to quit playing the video games, no matter how tired they are!

    So from a healthcare perspective, here we have an intervention that pretty much overcomes the obstacles we face in motivating these overweight unfit kids to be physically active. So what if playing Wii tennis isn’t quite like the real thing–at least they’re moving! One thing that we want to research is the “gateway effect” that exergaming might play. What if doing Wii tennis helps build self-confidence in playing a new sport, and at the same time helps them get more fit and lose weight? Then later one, they may want to try the “real” thing (as if doing the exergaming isn’t real). Most of your athletes are die-hard video gamers, and you don’t see them quitting their sports to just play video games.

    The technology is here to stay, we have an epidemic that is going out of control and current interventions are failing. Now is not the time to be timid about using a technology that hasn’t been used before in healthcare. We need out-of-the-box thinkers and clinicians to use and research exergaming, before it’s too late. It is possible to be involved in both exergaming and traditional physical activities. If you want to see, check out our blog and see if we and are friends aren’t active enough compared to the national rates. And we all love to play video games! 😉

    Ernie Medina

    December 9, 2008 at 6:47 am

  6. Ok I think you should really watch this video. You’ll know how I feel about this whole console-sport thing.

    Niccolò Favari

    December 18, 2008 at 11:43 am

  7. oops! oh well here it is the link

    Niccolò Favari

    December 18, 2008 at 11:44 am

  8. another great video link! I love that and will save it. thanks, Niccolo.

    Jayne Howarth

    December 18, 2008 at 2:00 pm

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