Fitness games, also known as exergames, have received a lot of attention in the past few years with the introduction of various motion-gaming systems like the Nintendo Wii, Playstation Move and Kinect for Xbox 360. While the effectiveness of these games is debated, researchers have taken a closer look to determine the type of benefits exergames can offer.
In a recent study in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers from Brigham Young University and the University of Massachusetts, Boston, found that playing active games like Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution could reproduce the health benefits of moderate exercise in kids, likened to walking at about 5 km/h (or 3 mph), or more depending on the game played. Read More...
The joint study tested 39 boys and girls ages 9 to 13 who played six home-console and commercial exergames typically available in schools and fitness centres. The games included Sportwall, the Jackie Chan Alley Run by Xavix, Lightspace Bug Invasion, Cybex Trazer Goalie Wars, Dance Dance Revolution and Nintendo Wii Boxing.
Using equipment that calculates the volume of air participants breathed in and out, as well as the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in their breath, researchers measured how much energy the kids expended. Their results showed that at-home exergames had participants exert about the same energy as walking at a moderate pace, while the commercial games had them use even more energy.
In addition to the intrinsic benefits of motion gaming, exergames are entertaining to play for fit and overweight children alike. "I think if you view this as a tool, there's enough evidence to suggest this could be a valid option to help kids adhere to an exercise program," said Bruce Bailey, the author of the study and a researcher in the Department of Exercise Science at Brigham Young University.
In another recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers at the American College of Sports Medicine looked at these benefits in an older demographic—18 to 35-year-olds.
Experts measured and compared the amount of calories burned and the level of enjoyment in 100 men and women who played four types of games: shooter, band simulation, dance simulation and fitness games. The study found that all genres except for the shooter generated more energy expenditure than sitting at rest. The best results ranged between 298 percent more energy spent through dance simulation games and 322 percent with fitness video games. While music simulation games were popular, they did not generate even light exercise.
"Replacement of television watching with play of these games may be a tactic for reducing sedentary behaviour," wrote the authors.
Lastly, researchers at Southeastern Louisiana University have published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research a study which looked at the health and fitness benefits of two Wii Fit games on volunteer participants, eight healthy women. The games included Step, a step aerobics workout; and Hula, a simulated hula-hoop game.
These games "can be used as an effective mode of physical activity to improve health in adult women," according to the study, which emphasizes that players “should strive to participate at higher (intermediate) game levels" at least, to obtain significant exercise benefits. Oxygen consumption and energy expenditure were part of the factors studied as players advanced through different levels of each game.
Of the two games, the Hula game generated higher oxygen consumption and energy expenditure. "This could be attributed to the fact that the hula involves more total body movement exercise than step and uses more muscle groups," wrote the researchers.
Exergames in School
Some schools are making use of exergames right in gym class. For example, the Pleasantville Public Schools district in New Jersey recently planned to spend about $16,000 to equip its schools with eight Nintendo Wii consoles for students to use during gym class.
"Physical education instruction, the way it used to be, doesn't work anymore,” said interim Superintendent Garnell Bailey. "We have to meet our children where they are. We have to use the technology available to us to keep our students energized and active."
"We expect participation to be up near 100 percent, which is almost unheard of," added Pleasantville physical education teacher Erika Boehm. "That's because anybody can do it."
Students at Myron L. Powell School in Cedarville, NJ, use a different system called HOP Sports as part of their physical education classes. Purchased thanks to an $18,000 grant, the system puts students through an exhausting circuit of activities from jumping a series of hurdles to working on their baseball swings.
"We have such limited space when we have to stay indoors that sometimes I have to sit some of the kids in the bleachers for safety reasons when we do certain activities," said Bob Williams, the athletic coordinator at the school, whose gym is about the size of half a basketball court. "This enables an entire class to participate at the same time. They could do this in their classrooms if they had a hook up for it."
Cool New Gadgets
Exergamers looking for new challenges can soon add them anywhere with GreenGoose adhesive sensors. While the platform is still in development, the sensors are available for pre-order on the company’s website. By attaching these motion sensors on various items, like a toothbrush or a water bottle, users will be able to track their movements and accumulate points.
Similarly, Blaze’s U-Move Nintendo Wii Nunchuck controller, part of the company’s Fitness First series, allows users add an additional layer of exercise when playing their favourite Wii games. The controller includes an accelerometer which requires players to move their arms or walk in place in order to activate the thumb stick. In addition, player activity also affects the speed at which the on-screen character will move. The Nunchuck also tracks users’ step and calorie count.