With the rise of video game controllers that don’t require you to be wired to the console and be adept at thumb button-pressing — such as the Wii and the xBox Kinect — a new genre of video games have also been developed: active video games (AVGs).
Active video games — also known as “exergames” — are games that combine game mechanics with activity or exercise. Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), for instance, is a simple dance competition game that has sold over 11 million copies worldwide since its latest release just two years ago.
Many people buy exercise games, such as Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus, to help them enjoy exercising more. Which then begs the question — do such exergames actually act as good substitutes for a more traditional physical workout?
Researchers led by Wei Peng from Michigan State University recently set to find out. They conducted a meta-analysis of the research — a systematic data analysis and review — to determine whether there’s anything of benefit to active video games (AVGs).
The researchers found 18 studies that met their criteria for analysis. The variables they were most interested in examining for each participant were heart rate (HR), oxygen consumption (VO2), and energy expenditure. They also wanted to determine whether the type of AVG played was important, and what effects player age and player weight status might have.
In the 18 studies examined, a total of 354 participants’ data were analyzed.
Researchers found that people who played AVGs had a higher heart beat per minute than resting, higher oxygen consumption than resting, and higher energy expenditure than resting.
Importantly, the researchers also didn’t find any significant difference between playing an active video game and traditional physical activities.
The specific type of active video game played did not appear to manner — any one will do in this category to obtain similar positive effects.
What about other characteristics?
Lower body and whole body movement systems produced more [energy expenditure] than upper body systems.
[The] effects of playing AVGs did not differ significantly between children and adults in terms of HR and VO2. However, children yielded larger effects than adults in terms of [energy expenditure].
The player’s weight had no impact on their ability to gain some benefit from AVGs and exergames.
So there you have it — when the data from 18 scientific studies were analyzed, they suggest that active video games are largely equivalent to moderate traditional physical activity or exercise. While an active video game is unlikely to replicate the most extreme workouts you can get through traditional outlets, they act as a good substitute for most people who need to get a daily or every-other-day workout.
Fire up your Wii Fit Plus. It’s time to get your exercise on!
Wei Peng, Jih-Hsuan Lin, and Julia Crouse. (2011). Is Playing Exergames Really Exercising? A Meta-Analysis of Energy Expenditure in Active Video Games. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 14, 681-688. doi:10.1089/cyber.2010.0578.