ExergamingPlay Your Way to a Better Body

Declining fitness levels and increasing body weight in children and adolescents have been attributed to the amount of time young people spend on computers and using Nintendo Wii, PS3, and Xbox instead of playing active games and sports outside. To get game-addicted kids moving, manufacturers have introduced games that require action, beginning with the popular Dance Dance Revolution launched several years ago. Since then, the interactive gaming market has exploded and created a new fitness phenomenon dubbed “exergaming.”

While they won’t get your child to play outside, interactive games that incorporate fitness and sports activities will get them to burn calories. The term “exergaming” officially entered the vocabulary in 2007 when it was added to popular dictionaries. Since then, medical researchers have been investigating the phenomenon’s contribution to overall health and fitness in people of all ages. Studies have shown that playing interactive games that include fitness activities or sports can result in energy expenditure equivalent to or slightly greater than brisk walking and lead to weight loss in children, college students, and adults.

Depending on the type of exergaming, improvements in coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility may also be possible. Incorporating exergaming into physical education classes has motivated inactive children to participate in more physical activity than did the standard physical education class.

Exergames range from the original dance-based varieties to boxing/martial arts to baseball and football. And this virtual fitness frenzy is not just for kids! Plenty of options for adults are available as well, even for those who dislike video games. If the concept of gaming is lost on you and you prefer to exercise as you would to a fitness DVD, products that mimic a personal trainer or fitness class instructor are available and provide guidance in strength training, dance, aerobics, yoga, balance, and martial arts.

Game levels from beginner to advanced are offered, and some products can even track fitness progress during the exercise session and over time Wii Fit and other gaming consoles can be interfaced with a balance board, hand weights, push-up bars, boxing gloves, and resistance bands that contain game controls. Add-on fitness programs are available, such as NFL Training Camp, Zumba Fitness, Yoga and Pilates, and the popular The Biggest Loser workouts, to provide variety.

Even the older generation is getting in on the action. The Nintendo Wii has become popular in older adult communities where Wii bowling, golf, and tennis tournaments have replaced bingo and board games. A recent study found that participating in exergaming improves balance and increases older adults’ participation in exercise therapy. The new Xbox Kinect offers interactive tai chi, an activity that has been shown to prevent falls and reduce arthritis pain in older adults. With these exergaming options, seniors who are not able or do not want to travel to a class, bowling alley, or golf course can get the health benefits without leaving home.

Additionally, medical researchers are collaborating with gaming manufacturers to modify dance-based fitness games to be more appealing to older adults by slowing down the dance steps and incorporating swing, ballroom, and oldies music.

In early 2011, a science panel convened by the American Heart Association examined the role of exergaming in improving health, enhancing selfesteem, and motivating positive changes in healthrelated behavior. While the panel concluded that more research is needed, it suggested that exergaming could serve as a gateway to motivate previously inactive video game players to increase the amount and intensity of daily physical activity.

Exergames may not allow players to reach the intensity achieved by the actual sport or deliver the recommended daily amount of exercise, but there is no doubt they are motivating sedentary gamers to move and, in some cases, are inspiring them to try the live version of a virtual sport.

Practicing a sport or fitness activity at home on a gaming system may allow children to develop basic skills and knowledge without fear of ridicule and give them enough confidence to join a team or sign up for a fitness class.

YMCAs, community recreation centers, and other family-friendly fitness facilities now offer exergaming stations next to traditional exercise equipment. Children can interact with the fitness game and each other by playing and competing in dance fitness, virtual sports, and virtual obstacle courses. Exercise bike manufacturers have even integrated exergaming with stationary cycles—cyclists are motivated to ride by interactive computerized terrain that incorporates finding prizes and accumulating.

Gaming does not have to be a source of family conflict anymore. Investing in fitness and sports exergames can get the whole family—from grandkids to grandparents—exercising together.