Can Active Video Games and ‘Exergames’ Replace Exercise?

Article at a Glance
• Active video games do not boost children’s overall activity levels.
• Study follows 78 children for 12 weeks to find out if active video games increase physical activity.
• Active video games do have some advantages, but studies suggest they are not an effective way for children to get their 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

Many parents and health experts have hoped that active video games, or “exergames” like Wii Sports and Xbox Kinect would be the solution for our little couch potatoes. But early studies, like the one conducted by Baylor University in 2012, concluded that these games do nothing to boost children’s overall activity levels.

The study monitored 78 children between the ages of 9 and 12 over the course of 12 weeks and ultimately found that children who received a new active video game weren’t any more active when compared to children who received an inactive video game.

The authors of the study explained that this is consistent with a phenomenon known among physiologists that when increased physical activity is prescribed, overall activity tends to stay the same. The reason is that subjects tend to compensate by reducing physical activity after completing the prescribed activity.

Exergames Do Have Benefits

Previous studies done in laboratories indicate that children are more active while playing active video games than while playing inactive video games. But researchers guess that maybe children play with less intensity when they are in a more natural setting or that, as believed in the Baylor study, an increase in activity while playing video games results in a decrease in activity during other times in the day.

Video Games Should Not Replace Real Exercise

In a 2016 study conducted by the University of Tanzania, researchers concluded that children would most likely not develop the same physical skills and reaction time from exercise focused video games as they would from the real thing.

So, while the Wii might not be the answer to your children getting their recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day, it may replace some of their sitting around time with something a little more active. It may also burn more calories, resulting in less weight gain over a period of time.

But the study seems to indicate that active video games will not be an ultimate solution. Traditional active play and physical exercise are still best.

Reviewed on February 17, 2020 by: Doug Later, D.O.
Doug Later, D.O.
Board-certified Pediatrician

Dr. Later is a father of three boys, a die-hard Utah Jazz fan, and a lover of the outdoors. He has an interest in sports medicine and autism spectrum disorder. Languages: English, Spanish

Vineyard Office
Full Bio

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