As technology develops at lightning speed, it seems everything we do is going digital — including our health and wellness. An activity called “exergaming” has emerged over the past few years, with kids and parents alike jumping aboard to try it.
Exergaming can best be defined as technology-driven physical activities. Think video game meets physical activity, where a person is required to be physically active to play the game. It’s become so popular because it leverages people’s passion for gaming and transforms a formerly sedentary behavior.
What does exergaming look like?
Game controllers range from sensor pads to simple motion sensor video cameras, requiring the user to move and interact with the game versus traditional sedentary types of gaming behaviors where the user is only using their hands. These games go beyond simple hand finger movements by requiring the user to apply full body motion to participate in virtual sports, dance, group fitness, or other physical activities. This is where the activity comes in and gets the family up and moving.
Is it good for you?
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that digital media should never replace healthy activities, particularly sleep, social interaction, and physical activity. Exergaming may be an effective exercise behavior-change strategy in the short term and may have positive health benefits if recommendations are made regarding intensity and duration of play for optimal health outcomes. It’s important to remember that exergaming is still a video game. In general, virtual games should not replace actual activity and play.
What are the most positive aspects of exergaming?
Our society is more and more sedentary, obesity rates are on the rise, and technology is a big part of our day. Well over 50 hours a week is spent in front of some type of screen. Gaming has become one of the most popular forms of screen entertainment and it has the potential to add movement to a person’s day that may have not been there before. Another benefit is that exergaming gives families an opportunity to try activities they may not be exposed to on a regular basis. For example, a young child may have never played tennis or tried bowling but can do both of those in the virtual world. It also can bring families together to spend time as a unit and have fun.
Is there a “right” age to introduce children to exergaming?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a good pulse on this with recent updates to their recommendations. The AAP once recommended under two hours per day of screen time for kids, but because of changing society it doesn’t make sense to put a number on it anymore. Even two hours may be too much.
The AAP recommends:
- For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.
- Children ages 18 to 24 months should have limited screen exposure.
- For children age 2 to 5, limit screen use to one hour per day of high-quality programs.
- For children age 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media. Make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity, and other behaviors essential to health.
- Have your family designate media-free times together. Good time to do this include at dinner, while driving or riding in the car. Create media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms and bathrooms.
- Online gaming and the Internet itself are changing rapidly, so it’s important to have conversations with your children regarding online citizenship and appropriate behavior toward others and themselves. This ongoing communication promotes safety and respectful engagement, including treating others with respect online and offline.
How challenging is exergaming?
A growing body of research supports exergaming as a healthy and beneficial form of physical activity. Studies have shown that various types of exergames can produce moderate to vigorous physical activity. In a review of exergames, the researchers found that dancing games resulted in significant energy expenditure compared to baseline. Similar results were found for cycling and boxing. It’s important to remember as with activity, the amount of energy expenditure is dependent on the intensity of the activity as well as the duration. However, additional research is required to evaluate the effectiveness of exergaming as a long-term health and wellness activity.
Is this type of gaming a substitute for real-world sports and physical activities?
Exergaming addresses the one problem we have the most difficulty overturning, which is sedentary behavior. Anything that makes children, youth, and adults more active is beneficial, but exergaming is not a substitute for real-world sports and developmental activities. And while parents should encourage their children to play exergames instead of sedentary video games during leisure time, it’s not recommended that exergames replace traditional physical activity.
Takeaway for parents
If your children are already physically active and spending time outdoors, that is always preferred and most beneficial. If you have children with a strong interest in video games, then exergaming may be one way to make those activities less sedentary.
It’s always important to be cautious of overall screen time. If your children are already spending a lot of time on screen it may not be most appropriate to introduce this as daily activity, but potentially one the whole family can enjoy — maybe on weekends or special occasions. If you are wondering where to start, The AAP recommends a media plan and has a wonderful online tool you can use.