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Game on!

New video games can help keep you active, but they're no match for the real thing

New video games can help keep you active, but they're no match for the real thing
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Burning energy

BY DEANNA BETTERIDGE
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, March / April 2010

I'm not sure if I want to admit it, but it's true. I have joined the ever-growing population of "active gamers."

I received the Wii Sport & Fit this past Christmas and thought this could be a perfect opportunity to share my experience - as a "gamer" and as a health-promotion professional.

We, at Winnipeg in motion, get asked quite often about the new generation of active video games - is it a good option for me, for my children, for my grandparents? Is it really a good workout? How similar is it to the real thing?

All are very good questions.

This new generation of active video games has gained tremendous popularity over the last few years as a way to get people up off the couch and active while playing video games, which, traditionally, was a very sedentary activity. Active video games are everywhere - at traditional arcades, community recreation centres, seniors' centres, fitness centres, and in your home (and mine).

I've really enjoyed including my Wii sports and activities into my winter workout routine. Winter can be a hard time for me to get my 30 to 60 minutes of daily physical activity in. It gets dark outside so much earlier and the frigid temperatures make it very tempting to just stay indoors. And now with my Wii, I can still get in a yoga workout or a few games of tennis or boxing without leaving my house. But aside from the short days and cold temperatures, I still prefer to head outdoors for a skate on the river, a walk around my neighbourhood, attend my favourite yoga studio, or try out a new activity - my new favourites being cross-country skiing and ultimate frisbee.

When active video games first came out, I was pretty hesitant to believe that they were as good as everyone was saying. And, through my own experiences, my concerns have been justified. I play the Wii much differently than many of my friends and other "tech-savy" kids out there...I play very actively. Before I get started on my Wii, I move my couch back, my coffee table out of the room, and anything breakable - look out! Whether it's Wii tennis, boxing, baseball or some of the balance-board activities like hula-hooping - I am running, jumping and leaping around the room with both arms stretched out for balance. So, for me, I feel the Wii is a decent alternative for getting some physical activity while staying indoors. But the Wii is not the answer for our country's inactivity crisis. Once you learn how to work the system, you are able to sit on the couch moving only your wrist to get the same results (or better) as I get running, leaping and jumping around my living room. For the record, I lost in tennis, curling, boxing and figure skating - and my opponent was sitting on the couch, not sweating at all. I, on the other hand, sweaty and exhausted - definitely expended more energy than she did, so, really, I won!

Unfortunately, the research doesn't offer us any conclusive long-term health benefits or weight management for participating in active gaming systems, but it does lean towards some short-term positive outcomes. The evidence shows that, compared to traditional sedentary video games, "active" video gamers expend two to three times more energy (based on approximate calories burned). But, compared to participating in the real version of the activities, active video games don't even come close.

So, yes - active video games are better than sedentary video games, but they don't even come close to the benefits you get from playing the real thing. The health, social, mental and emotional benefits you get from playing the real thing with real people could never be accomplished in a virtual world.

There is some evidence showing that people with an active gaming system in their home generally participate in more daily physical activity. That may mean that those people put a larger priority on physical activity - whether it is an active gaming system or going for a walk around their neighbourhood, they are more inclined to spend their leisure time being active.

My overall recommendation is that active video games should not replace real life physical activity. And if you are going to play, play "actively."

As much fun as I'm having with my Wii, I'm really looking forward to putting it away and heading outdoors as soon as possible to play tennis and golf with real people!

For more information, visit:

For more ideas on how you and your family can be more physically active, call 204-940-3648 or visit www.winnipeginmotion.ca

Deanna Betteridge is a co-ordinator with Winnipeg in motion, which is a partnership of the Winnipeg Health Region, the City of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba.

Wave: March / April 2010

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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