Exergaming is a common form of physical activity amongst youth

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Key findings:

  1. 24% of youth participants “exergame” (i.e., engage in exercise via video games), with three-quarters reporting exergaming at intensity levels that may help them achieve recommendations for moderate-to-vigorous physical activity
  2. Exergaming was correlated with being a non-smoker, stress about weight, television screen time, female gender, and tendency to play other video games that are non-active

Primer: Physical activity has been widely recognized as a means to prevent obesity in children. Few youth, however, meet the current Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology guidelines of partaking in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes, 3 days per week. Additionally, high levels of screen time may be a contributing factor that limits physical activity in youth. Therefore, one way of increasing physical activity in youth may be the use of “exergames”, which are video games that encourage physical activity through virtual sport simulators, rhythmic dancing, and virtual bicycles, to name some examples. Exergames were originally developed based on traditional video games, which are played by the large majority of American youth. Although exergaming has been described in the literature, there is currently a lack of data with regards to the type, duration, and intensity of exergaming by youth, which are all useful descriptors for designing pragmatic interventions or making recommendations to youth.

For further reading, please see the following studies:

  1. Daley AJ. Can exergaming contribute to improving physical activity levels and health outcomes in children? Pediatrics 2009;124(2):763-771.
  2. Maddison R, Foley L, Mhurchu CN, et al. Effects of active video games on body composition: A randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011;94(1):156-163.

This [cross-sectional] study: Questionnaires were mailed to Grade 10 and 11 students in Montreal with questions relating to exergame use, sociodemographics, lifestyle, weight perception, and mental health. A total of 1,241 questionnaires were completed, and it was found that 24% of respondents participated in exergaming (73% with at least moderate intensity) for an average of 50 minutes each session, 2 days per week. Common exergames included Wii Sports, Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit Yoga, and Boxing Punchout. Exergamers were more likely to be girls, to play other (non-active) video games, to watch 2 hours of television daily, to be stressed about weight, and to be non-smokers.

In sum: The study found that many adolescents exergame at intensity levels that may help them meet the current recommendations for physical activity. Notably, exergaming may especially help increase physical activity in girls, decrease sedentary time, and potentially prevent smoking in youth. Major limitations of this study include the reliance on self-reported data and its cross-sectional design.

There is a need for pragmatic interventions designed at reducing obesity in children. As a means of increasing physical activity in youth specifically, who already spend considerable time playing video games, “exergaming” may be an effective approach. These findings suggest that exergaming may indeed be a valuable tool for clinicians and families to use in helping youth meet physical activity guidelines and reduce obesity levels.

Click here to read the study in Pediatrics

Written by [GL] and [AC]

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