Can Active Video Games Replace Your Gym Membership?

This morning, AICR Vice-President for Programs Deirdre McGinley-Gieser shares some thoughts about the role of active video games in the day to day life of her family. 

Researchers are looking at the Wii Fit and similar active video games to see if they can play a role in increasing physical activity and fitness. From the few studies published so far, it seems that the intensity of game is crucial. The health benefits seem to kick in once the “Beginner” levels have passed, and the intensity of activity reaches moderate-to-vigorous levels.

I’m trying this out myself, as a Wii was one of the packages under our Christmas tree this year – offering a more convenient path to regular exercise than a daily trip to the gym.

So has it lived up to expectations?

I was surprised at both the variety of activities and range of movement each game encouraged. I definitely stretched in all directions, used a variety of muscles and worked up a sweat. It was novel, fun and engaging – although the big reveal of my Wii Fit “Age” (a number the device assigns me based on my performance of various tasks) shocked me.

Is that enough to make me a regular user?  It’s still too early to tell.  The gym is still my first choice — when I think of a “real” work out, I think of the treadmill or elliptical machine.

A few weeks back, a clinical trial published in the journal Pediatrics found that, among a  group of 87 healthy children, the benefits of active video games weren’t clear. If left to their own devices, the children who were given active video games either didn’t play them, or “gamed the system” by doing the least amount of physical activity necessary to make the computer think it had completed various tasks.

This gave me pause, until I remembered that, in our house, we tend to play active video games as a family. Whenever any one of us attempts to squeak by doing  less than the game requires, the rest of us gently (and sometimes not so gently) take them to task. So playing together provides a sort of back-up to the Wii’s fitness coach — and allows us to encourage each other at the same time.

What’s your experience with the Wii and similar active video games – has it helped you and your family get more active, or is it a passing fad?


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