Video Games for Exercise

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Video games: to many people, these two words convey images of sedentary “couch potatoes” with their eyes glued to the television screen — or at least don’t bring to mind vigorous physical activity. But in recent years, a number of fitness-oriented games have hit the market. While they’re still vastly outnumbered by those in the “action” fantasy, and combat categories, games for platforms such as Wii Fit and Xbox Kinect, as well as longstanding games like Dance Dance Revolution, have encouraged many people to see video games in a new light. These systems use floor pads and handheld consoles that sense steps and motion, thus allowing for games based on a wide range of activities such as tennis, boxing, yoga, or dance (see the article “Making Exercise More Fun” for more information).

So perhaps it should be no surprise that according to a survey released earlier this month, as reported in the Orlando Sentinel, 70% of adults believe that video games can be a good source of exercise, if not a replacement for more traditional forms. Commissioned by the insurance group UnitedHealth, the survey of 1,015 adults also found that interest in video games for fitness was not simply aimed at children. While 60% of survey respondents with children agreed that kids should play physically active video games, 54% of all respondents felt that they, themselves, could benefit from the physical activity offered through these games.

As noted in the Sentinel article, proponents of video games for exercise emphasize that unlike most home exercise equipment, video games provide a competitive experience — whether that competition is with yourself for a higher score, or with someone else playing with you. Even for those not motivated by competition, video games can provide a more interactive experience than, say, workout videos, giving feedback as well as instruction. And unlike workout videos, video games give the user a wide variety of options in the exact nature of their experience — from song selection to difficulty level to the number of participants involved.

But video games, of course, also have a downside. Compared with a scheduled exercise class at a gym or recreation center, they may offer less social interaction or personal instruction, and for many people a group setting provides the necessary motivation to follow through with the planned activity. And compared with real baseball, tennis, or downhill skiing, video-game approximations of these activities lack the experience of the outdoors or the wide range of movement that they entail — and are also unlikely to burn the same number of calories as the traditional exercises. They also require a certain amount of comfort with electronic devices and systems, although newer games tend to be extremely user-friendly in this regard.

What do you think — do you feel that video games are a good alternative, or complement, to other forms of physical activity? Have you tried any physically intensive video games? Can you see yourself doing them, perhaps even regularly? Leave a comment below!

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