Active exercise videogames: Are they any good?

Active exercise videogames, also known as ‘exergames’, are increasingly popular with those looking to keep fit and keep their weight levels down. Ever since the pioneering interactive motion sensor-based Nintendo Wii first burst onto the scene in December 2006, the demand for games has been huge that require the user to exert a high level of energy. In particularly the ‘Just Dance’ videogame series has seen its sales skyrocket in the last few years, as well as various exercise games such as Zumba Fitness on the Nintendo Wii, or the X-Box 360’s Kinect Sports range.

However, just how effective are these games for weight maintenance, do they promote an attitude of actually getting in the gym to engage in rigorous exercise and how do they compare to getting out of the house and doing the exercises for real. Researchers from Michigan State University decided to find all this out for themselves.

One of the head researchers, Wei Pang, and colleagues decided to conduct a review of 41 previously published active videogame (AVG) studies. They deduced that only 3 of these studies were successful in persuading people to become more physically active and that the exergames usually only can ever provide users with ‘light-to-moderate’ physical activity which Wei says is nowhere near as effective as ‘real life exercise’.

Wei commented, “For those not engaging in real-life exercise, this may be a good step toward this. Eventually the goal is to help them get somewhat active and maybe move to real-life exercise. Some people are very enthusiastic about exergames. They think this will be the perfect solution to solve the problem of sedentary behaviour. But it’s not that easy.”

It is recommended by many health authorities that adults undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity physical activity each week, equivalent to 30 minutes per day for five days. According to Peng, the videogames are not sufficient in keeping with these guidelines and providing the necessary levels of intensity. Despite this however, she does appreciate the positives that can be taken from the exergames.

She further said, “The games do have the potential to be useful. Especially for populations that are more suitable to light-to-moderate activity – seniors, for example. Just giving the games to people may not be a good approach. They may not use it or use it effectively. It’s better if used in a structured program where there are more people participating.”

At the end of the review, study authors also discussed the use of AVGs within different technology devices such as tablets or mobile phones and they said, “Additionally, mobile smart phones, tablet computers, and other portable gaming devices are emerging as possible AVG platforms. Besides their portability, these plat- forms also offer functions such as geospatial location tracking, pedometers, location-based knowledge presentation, and many other technologically sophisticated features that will make AVGs increasingly accessible and easily incorporated into daily life.”

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