Active gaming (aka exer-gaming) is the term used for video games that involve some level of physical activity. I’ve discussed active gaming on Obesity Panacea in the past, and while I don’t doubt that it can be an effective tool for promoting physical activity in certain specific situations (eg as a form of physiotherapy), I remain skeptical about it’s ability to increase physical activity levels for the vast majority of children.
Unfortunately for active gaming enthusiasts, a study recently published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism suggests that my skepticism may have been well-founded. In this new study (available free to Canadians here) researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario examined the impact of the GameBike on exercise adherence, energy expenditure, aerobic fitness, and metabolic health in overweight and obese adolescents with at least one metabolic complication.
Briefly, the GameBike is an exercise bike that attaches to any video-game console and allows people to compete in racing games by pedaling the bike. The faster you pedal, the better your score. I haven’t played it myself, but I will admit that it does sound more fun that simply riding an exercise bike.
In this study, the authors compared the impact of the GameBike with the impact of simply listening to music (on the radio, a CD, or personal music player). In both conditions, participants were asked to attend the lab twice a week for 10 weeks. Each session lasted for 60 minutes, and while the participants had to remain in the lab for that time, the amount of time spent cycling was completely up to them.
Somewhat surprisingly, listening to music was actually more effective than the GameBike in a number of important categories. Participants in the music group missed fewer sessions (8% vs 14%), spent nearly twice as much time exercising at a vigorous intensity in each session (25 min vs 14 min), and cycled 2.3 kilometers (~1.5 miles) farther every session. Both groups saw significant increases in fitness over the course of the intervention, while neither group saw changes in metabolic profile (although there was a reduction in total cholesterol when the groups were collapsed).
I will readily admit that this study doesn’t suggest that the GameBike is completely ineffective – but it does appear to be substantially less effective than simply listening to music. This is somewhat surprising given that the GameBike website claims immodestly that the GameBike:
…has changed the world as we know it.
And let’s not forget that listening to music is incredibly cheap, while the Game Bike costs $1500-2000. Certainly not the most cost-effective strategy for promoting physical activity, and one more reason to think that active gaming may not be the panacea for the childhood inactivity crisis.
Adamo KB, Rutherford JA, & Goldfield GS (2010). Effects of interactive video game cycling on overweight and obese adolescent health. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 35 (6), 805-15 PMID: 21164552