Are ‘Exergames’ Really Exercise?

The other day, I was cleaning the recreational area of our basement and I came upon some much-wanted video gaming equipment that now is gathering dust. I remember a conversation I had with my daughter several years ago.

“Mom, it’s time to do Wii Fit!” my daughter announced. She was about 5 at the time.

“I’m busy making dinner, so I can’t right now,” I said.

About 15 minutes later, I felt a poke on my arm as I sat in front of our computer while dinner was in the oven.

“We need a break! Are you ready to do Wii Fit now?” she asked, more than a bit impatiently.

“I’m working on a Facebook page for the ‘Eat Smart. Play Hard. Together’ program,” I said.

The irony didn’t escape me. I was sitting at a computer writing about health, obviously not improving my personal fitness in the process.

I also could not escape my persistent young personal trainer.

“You need some exercise! Wii Fit is fun!” she exclaimed, taking me by the hand and leading me to the world of “exertainment.”

Soon I was standing on the Wii balance board being weighed and having my balance and strength tested. Then I was following along with an encouraging “virtual” trainer on the screen as I did step aerobics and yoga.

I watched as my progress was charted on our TV screen after each attempt.

Finally, I was trying to catch and maneuver multiple hula hoops around the waist of my look-alike onscreen character, or Mii.

Twirling virtual hula hoops is harder than it sounds, by the way.

My daughter was wise in admonishing me to get out of my chair. People of all ages need breaks from work or school. Adults need at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days for good health. Kids need at least 60 minutes of physical activity on most days.

Exercise reduces stress, refocuses your brain and strengthens your heart and muscles.

For kids, recess breaks can mean better school performance and behavior. A study reported in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that having a 15-minute recess break was linked with better classroom behavior.

How about technology-based exercise breaks?

Exergames, the nickname given to video games that include an exercise component, are used in many school-based fitness programs. Several brands of gaming equipment are available.

Researchers put the new technology to the test in a study reported in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. They provided 35 children, half of whom were classified as overweight, with the opportunity to exercise with music, music and a video or the interactive dance game Dance, Dance Revolution.

The interactive dance game was the most reinforcing of the three techniques. Children who were not overweight were more active when playing Dance, Dance Revolution.

Exergames also are finding their way into more nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. In some situations, the technology is being used to help rehabilitate injured athletes.

OK, exergames are fun, but do they really promote better health? It depends.

Some university studies have shown that exertainment isn’t equal to real exercise and recreational activities, but it’s better than lying on a couch.

If you are standing (or sitting) in one spot and simply flipping your wrist in a virtual bowling game, you are not burning many calories. However, if you are dancing vigorously to keep up with a dancing video game, you can raise your heart rate and burn calories.

In most cases, however, you will burn three or four times as many calories doing the real activity, compared with the virtual one. Be careful of injuries when doing virtual fitness activities, too.

Check out our “Eat Smart. Play Hard. Together” website at www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart. You can interact with us by clicking on the Facebook link, too.

Here’s a refreshing snack to help you meet your daily fruit recommendations:

Fruit for the Day Smoothie

1 7-ounce can mandarin oranges (in light syrup)
2 medium-sized frozen bananas, peeled and sliced
2 c. frozen unsweetened strawberries
1 1/2 c. fat-free milk

Add all ingredients to the blender in the order listed above. Be sure to hold down the lid and blend on low speed for 30 seconds. Then blend on high speed for one minute.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 4 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate and 3 g fiber.

 

 

 

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)