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Active Video Games Help Kids Exercise

They burn many more calories and have higher heart rates, researchers say

MONDAY, Sept. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Children love playing video games, and playing active versions of these games may help stop children from becoming obese, University of Hong Kong researchers report.

In fact, children playing active video games have higher heart rates and burn four times as many calories a minute than children playing passive video games, according to this new study.

"Technological change in our homes, schools and workplaces has meant the amount of walking we do has declined significantly, and in its place, disproportionately greater amounts of time are spent seated," said lead researcher Alison M. McManus, from the university's Institute of Human Performance. "With childhood obesity posing the largest international health riddle, converting seated activities into active ones is an important goal."

Parents need to be creative in their endeavors to get children active, McManus said. Children play video games, because it is fun, exciting and challenging, but it is largely conducted seated, she added.

"The children in this study had a lot of fun playing media games and burnt up calories, showing that making video game media active can certainly help in our efforts to get children active," McManus said. "The challenge is for industry to continue developing new and exciting games that integrate physical activity into the virtual game environment."

The report was published in the September issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

McManus and her colleague, Robin R. Mellecker, measured heart rate and number of calories burned in 18 children aged 6 to 12, who played an active video game, a passive video game, and an action/running game. Over 25 minutes, the children alternated between the three games with a five-minute rest in between each game, the researchers noted.

McManus and Mellecker found that compared with resting children, 39 percent more calories per minute were burnt playing the video passive game, 98 percent more calories per minute were burnt playing the active bowling game, and 451 percent more calories per minute were burnt playing the action/ running game. Moreover, the researchers found that heart rates were significantly higher during the active game and the action game compared with playing the seated video game.

Playing active video games resulted in meaningful amounts of energy being expended in comparison to the normal seated game environment, McManus said.

"In the J-Mat game -- Jackie Chan Action Run -- the children raised their heart rate to 160 beats per minute, expending more than 5 kilocalories of energy per minute compared with only 1.3 kilocalories when seated," McManus said. "When using the XaviX Bowling game, which essentially is a standing game with light intensity movement, children expended 0.6 kilocalories per minute more than seated computer game play."

McManus thinks that these games can be used to get children to exercise regularly.

"When playing on the XaviX J-Mat, the children played at an intensity equivalent to vigorous exercise. If they were to play regularly, they could more easily meet current activity recommendations, which are otherwise not being met," McManus said.

If the light intensity XaviX Bowling game was played for 20 minutes to 30 minutes daily, this may provide pronounced benefit for a number of the diseases associated with physical inactivity if maintained over time, McManus said. "Importantly, this lower intensity activity is likely to be more sustainable over longer periods of time than more vigorous intensity games," she said.

Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, thinks playing active video games maybe a good way to get children exercising.

"It is reassuring to see evidence that the power of technological progress can be converted from foe to friend with regard to the health of children," Katz said. "The evidence is clear from this study that, at least in brief bouts, video gaming can constitute a meaningful aerobic workout."

Susan Finn, chairwoman of the American Council for Fitness & Nutrition, noted there needs to be a balance between how much children eat and the amount of exercise they get.

"When it comes to obesity, the other part of the equation is the consumption of calories," Finn said. "This half of the solution is often more difficult. The American Council for Fitness and Nutrition has partnered with PE4life and The American Dietetic Association Foundation to teach energy balance -- what you do and what you eat has to be in balance. This report deals with half of the equation and demonstrates that there are many ways to get kids active," she said.

More information

For more about children and obesity, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Alison M. McManus, Ph.D., Institute of Human Performance, University of Hong Kong; David L. Katz, M.D., director, Prevention Research Center, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn.; Susan Finn, R.D., Ph.D., chairwoman, American Council for Fitness & Nutrition, Washington, D.C.; September 2008, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine

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