Do Fitness Video Games Get You Fit?

Fitness-oriented games are a new popular theme in video games, but do they really get you any more active? A university researcher looks at all the existing research and says, “No.”

Video games have become a large part of the American culture. With a large percentage of the population, of all ages, playing the games and the industry receiving criticism for promoting bad health habits, innovative designers are looking for ways to incorporate fitness into game play.

A Michigan State University associate professor recently conducted a review into the validity of “exergames” as a fitness tool. The review systematically summarized laboratory studies that validate the intensity of active video games (AVGs) as a way to promote physical activity amongst both children and adults. This review also evaluated the effectiveness of intervention studies using AVGs to increase physical activity among children and the results. This study was led by Wei Peng, Michigan State University associate professor of telecommunication, information studies, and media, and is published in the recent edition of the Journal of Health Education and Behavior.1

Peng reviewed published research of studies of active video games, which are also known as exergames. The systematic review included 41 articles that were classified into two categories: 28 laboratory studies quantifying intensity of AVG play and 13 AVG-based physical activity intervention studies. Peng and her researchers found that most of the AVGs provide only “light-to-moderate” intensity physical activity, which she says is not nearly as good as “real-life exercise.”2

For those not engaging in real-life exercise, this may be a good step toward this,” said Peng. “Eventually the goal is to help them get somewhat active and maybe move to real-life exercise.”3

Of the 41 AVG studies that Peng and her researchers reviewed, only three proved to be an effective tool in increasing physical activity. “Some people are very enthusiastic about exergames,” Peng said. “They think this will be the perfect solution to solve the problem of sedentary behavior. But it’s not that easy.”4

Peng went on to state that exergames have proven to be useful when incorporated into a structured exercise routine. Peng also noted the games do have potential to be beneficial, especially among senior populations, or other similar groups such as rehabilitation patients, where light-to-moderate physical activity is more suitable. Peng adds, “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.”5

Considering the fact more than half of American adults play games, and 29% of those older than 50 years play video games, this review sheds some light on the potential for utilizing AVGs as a tool to either increase physical activity in the older or rehabbing populations, or promote physical activity for capable children as well as adults.

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