Video games keep you fit, says study

A new study says active video games are a better source of moderate or intense physical exercise for kids than outdoor play

Next time your parents (or spouse) demands that you drop a computer game, and go out in the yard and play (or cut grass) in order to get some healthy, physical activity you can quote a line from this blog post at them:

“Researchers have found that ‘active video games may actually be a source of moderate or intense physical activity in kids five to eight years old.’”

Now, you may well be a bit older than the children in the study, and League of Legends strategy might not compare with tennis on the Wii, but spouted with a straight face, the indisputable facts laid out in this serious, university-led study, just might buy you some more game time.

Physical activity

Video game playing has for years been blamed for being one of the causes of children's (and maybe ours as well) lack of exercise, obesity and general malaise.

But it is, in fact, good for you, the new report says.

"Our study shows video games which wholly engage a child's body can be a source of physical activity," says Hollie Raynor, of the University of Tennessee’s Healthy Eating and Activity Laboratory in Knoxville.

Unstructured outdoor play

Raynor and her team compared unstructured outdoor play to video games.

“Unstructured outdoor play,” in case you’ve forgotten what it is, as I had, is when kids run around. In this case they used a playground with hula hoops, a climbing tree, and so on. The kids could choose any activity.

The video gaming session, on the other hand, comprised a Kinect Adventures River Rush game, and a 40-inch television.

Kinect for Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console is a controller-free gaming system that uses the whole body. It functions through motion sensors and skeletal tracking.

The researchers chose that game because it is easy for kids to play.

Accelerometers

Three accelerometers were placed on each child--one on the hip and two on the wrists.

Trained observers used a formal scale, called the Children's Activity Rating Scale to “estimate activity levels.” The tests were performed over three weeks, and indicated “estimated energy expenditure.”

The results

The scientists found that gaming was better than playing outside when it came to physical activity.

Monitoring the hip accelerometer sensor, active video gaming showed a “greater percentage of moderate to vigorous intensity,” than the unstructured play, the scientists found.

"No one else has used measures with this degree of accuracy in comparing active video gaming with outdoor play in young children,” Raynor says.

Choices of video games

Raynor and her team are quick to clarify that they aren’t saying that video games should replace outdoor play. They reckon that the evidence uncovered should be used to make better choices as to which video games children should play.

“We're not saying video games should replace outdoor play, but there are better choices people can make when choosing the types of video games for their children,” Raynor says.

Thankfully, I’m no longer a child. Now where’s my controller?

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