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Can video games help players score a daily dose of exercise? 

By Jessica Salerno

Video games aren’t known for their health benefits, as most require the user to be seated for play. But a new study by Cheryl Howe, assistant professor of exercise physiology, may change that perception.

Howe recruited 56 participants to play four games on the X-Box Kinect system, which forces users to actively move during play. Study subjects were allowed to choose their opponents.

 exercise study
Maureen Glismann wore an Oxycon Mobile system, which measures energy expenditure, during the study. Photo by Heather Haynes.
 
“You’re going to choose someone you want to compete against. If I chose a stranger, I wouldn’t necessarily play at the right intensity,” says Howe, who adds that she heightened the competition by offering prizes.

Although the results are still in the preliminary stages, Howe says that the active games, when played with high intensity and for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, were comparable with other physical activities such as team sports or running. The research team presented findings at the Midwest Chapter Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Study participants wore an Oxycon Mobile system, a portable metabolic unit, which measures how fast they breathed and how much energy they expended during exercise. To evaluate participant efforts, Howe expressed energy expenditure as a metabolic equivalent (MET). Two METs is standing and walking, three METs is moderate intensity, and anything above six METs qualifies as vigorous intensity. Anything higher than three METs counts toward the daily recommended dose of activity, which for adults is 30 minutes per day, three to five times per week.
 exercise study
Carrie Augenstein and Maureen Glismann played X-Box Kinect to help researchers understand how video games can play a role in physical fitness. Photo by Heather Haynes.

The most intense game was Zumba, clocking in at almost eight METs for the most vigorous players.  Also above six METs: Kinect Adventures and Dance Central 2. Kinect Sports, which requires the players to take turns, clocked in at about four METs.

“It would be great if we could let people know that they can put the Xbox Kinect in and play Dance Central for 30 minutes and get their workout for the day,” Howe says.

She’d like to try the same study with children as a “rainy day solution” for daily exercise.
 howe_cheryl
Cheryl Howe. Photo provided by College of Health Sciences and Professions.

“Some of the main reasons kids don’t get enough exercise is that it’s not safe to go outside,” Howe says, “but all this can be done in their living room.”

The concept even could work for the elderly, she adds, as it could help increase their balance and coordination as a way to reduce the risk of falls.

This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2013 edition of Perspectives magazine, which covers the research, scholarship and creative activity of Ohio University faculty, staff and students.