Playing video games isn’t exactly demanding on the body, but some newer versions may get children moving enough to keep them healthy.
Researchers at the University of Chester in England found that the Kinect Xbox 360 system pumps up heart rate and pushes children to move more than the Wii system or playing sedentary video games. Because Kinect includes more whole-body movements, while Wii is navigated by a handheld controller, children tend to expend slightly more energy playing games on the former.
In a small study involving 18 boys and girls aged 11 to 15 years, Michael Morris and his colleagues found that the children playing Dance Central and Kinect Sports Boxing (both on the Kinect Xbox 360 system) boosted their energy expenditure by 153% and 263%, respectively, over their baseline resting rates. They also increased their heart rates by 103% and 194% over their heart rates while playing more sedentary video games.
The study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, did not directly compare the Kinect and Wii systems. Rather, the authors measured energy expenditure and heart rates in Kinect players and compared these values to previous studies of those playing Wii. Says Morris, “It does appear from the data in this early small scale study, that the whole-body movement of the Xbox provides slightly better results for energy expenditure and also heart rate.”
In fact, over the course of an hour, children playing Kinect may burn 172 calories more than if they were playing a sedentary game. Even more important, says Morris, was the fact that the Kinect players worked up enough of a sweat to reach about 66% of their maximum heart rate. Because the heart is a muscle, pushing heart rate up regularly to reach its maximum pumping capacity is a good way to improve fitness, and fitness can lead to longer term gains in health and survival. In a recent study, those who were more fit in middle age were 30% less likely to die early than those who were not, regardless of how much they weighed.
Still, Morris says the results aren’t an excuse to give up playing real-life sports or engaging in exercise outdoors. As far as the social and health benefits go, playing actual sports is always preferable playing the virtual version. What’s more, there are studies suggesting that children who play active video games may end up exercising less than kids who don’t, because they convince themselves they have reached their physical activity “quota” just by playing the games.
But, says Morris, while “active video games cannot singlehandedly substitute for outdoor play or sports, they might help to bridge the gap for children with low physical activity.” And since video games seem to have more immediate appeal than a jog around the block, setting children up with ones that get their hearts racing may not be a bad idea.