Active video games can increase heart rate and energy use for kids, a small study suggests. The study included 18 children, ages 11 to 15. They were asked to play a traditional seated video game, a dance game and a boxing sports game for 15 minutes each. The dance and boxing games used the Kinect system for Xbox 360. Kinect does not use a controller, so the kids had to move while playing. Researchers measured the children's heart rate, oxygen use and overall energy use during each game. All three increased. The children used twice as much energy for the dancing game as for the seated game. They used three times as much energy for the boxing game. The journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine published the study. HealthDay News and Reuters Health news service wrote about it September 26.
By Reena L. Pande, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
I am just going to go ahead and admit there is photo evidence of me playing "Just Dance" on the Nintendo Wii with my children. I was sweaty and out of breath. And that was while I was losing!
It's true. With traditional video games, there was no need for much movement. But newer technologies, such as Wii or Kinect for the Xbox 360, require the player to actually move. Could these games actually be a way to improve physical activity in children (and even in adults)?
This was one of the questions raised by a small study of children in England. The study involved 18 children, ages 11 to 15. Researchers asked them to play 3 different video games for 15 minutes each.
The first game was a seated video game. The kids did not have to move to play it. The second was an active video game that involved dancing ("Dance Central"). The third was an even more active video game, "Kinect Sports Boxing." The researchers measured heart rate and overall energy use in the children.
In this study, playing active video games led to higher energy use than seated video games. The kids' heart rates went up. So did their use of oxygen.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that everyone should go out and buy an active video game machine. In fact, we know from other studies that spending too much time playing video games and watching TV raises the chance of obesity in children. However, the study does suggest that games that promote physical activity may be better for children than games they play while seated.
In adults, these types of active games may also improve movement-related skills. These include reflexes, balance and coordination. The games may be of particular benefit to adults with movement problems such as Parkinson's disease. So there may be benefits for both children and adults.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
Physical activity is important no matter how you get it. For kids, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least an hour of physical activity per day. At least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week is recommended for adults.
Playing active video games might be one way for children and adults to get more physical activity. But let's be honest here. Even active video games should not be a substitute for good old outdoor play. These days our kids spend too much time indoors and too little time playing outside with friends. Unfortunately, adults have the same problem with being inactive.
But if you have a video game device, here are some ways to use it to improve physical activity (for adults or kids):
- Pick games that require movement. Games that make you move your body are more likely to get your heart rate up and burn more calories, as was seen in this study. Dancing, boxing and running in place are all good options.
- Get off the sofa. Don't pretend to be moving by just moving the hand controller and not the rest of your body. Obviously, this defeats the purpose. Get up and really move.
- Try yoga. Although it might not be a big calorie-burner, yoga can help with balance, strength and movement.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
These researchers are also working on a longer study. They want to find out whether playing active video games has real health benefits, such as improved weight and fitness. Studies in adults are trying to understand if these types of video games can help to promote social activity in senior centers and improve movement and balance.
Lets be clear about the message. Too much TV and video games are bad for you. That we know. But perhaps changing the way our kids (and we) play video games may make them a tool for improving physical activity.