Jan 14, 2009 | Fitness, January 2009

Video games can make you fit!?

By Annette M. Zaharoff, MD

A new wave of fitness video games may be key to combating inactivity that is at the heart of assorted health problems. So-called fitness video gaming systems, which require more physical activity than traditional sedentary systems, can actually lead to better health, according to some recent research. Beyond their inherent entertainment value “exergaming” (the new buzzword used to describe these video games that demand a certain amount of physical activity) may be just the thing to induce youth to spend more time exercising and less time sitting.


One recent study from the University of Nebraska found that children using fitness video games had an increase heart rate, oxygen consumption, and energy expenditure by two to three times when compared with sitting quietly or playing traditional hand-held games. While a child engaged in virtual play, his or her average heart rate increased about 33 percent from 80 beats per minute to 120 bpm — what one could expect when walking or dancing slowly. The games played were Wii Boxing and Tennis, and Dance Dance Revolution. The investigators discovered children’s heart rates were highest while they played Wii Boxing, followed by Dance Dance Revolution and then Wii Tennis. Oxygen consumption was higher while playing all three active video games that at rest or while playing a sedentary video game. The energy expenditure is still not what one would expend while really playing and is NOT a substitute for real exercise.

The movements per minute were more than four times higher while playing active video games than during DVD-watching and sedentary handheld gaming activities. In fact, researchers have found that when children watched a DVD or played traditional hand-held controlled video games, they did not burn any more calories than they would by reading a book.

Not all games are created equal in promoting the same level of exercise intensity. Researchers from the Netherlands found that children did not burn as many calories playing Wii Tennis and Eye Toy Volleyball as they did while playing Dance Dance Revolution, Xerbike, Laser Squash and Apartgame.

Recent research suggests that the more one plays a virtual game, the more fit one becomes. Experienced players show higher exercise heart rates, perceived exertion rates, oxygen consumption and total energy expenditure. The greater the experience, the more work at higher intensities the exergamers achieved.

Video games still have a way to go before they earn a solid reputation as a respectable source for exercise in the fitness arena. Experts still agree that there is still no substitute for playing the sport itself. It seems clear, however, that computer based fitness systems are clearly appealing to a population of Americans that is in desperate need of a fitness regime adjustment. Active video games may be a successful tool to promote physical activity among children. It is better than sedentary activities like watching television and playing conventional inactive computer games.

There will be more to come in future articles that I’ll write about injuries and video games. So, for now, if you have questions regarding health and fitness issues, contact your sports medicine physician.

Dr. Annette Zaharoff is a sports medicine physician specializing in the non-surgical evaluation and treatment of injuries. She maintains a private practice in San Antonio and may be reached by calling her office at (210) 616-0646 or visiting her Web site www.drZmd.com

South Texas Fitness & Health