Is GameBike An Effective Way To Increase Physical Activity?

Image from Gamebike.com

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.

What happened?

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.

Travis

ResearchBlogging.orgAdamo 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

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7 Responses to Is GameBike An Effective Way To Increase Physical Activity?

  1. Doug McClean says:

    That’s an interesting study. A potential flaw (and to me a plausible hypothesis) is that of the “Participants in the music group [who] missed fewer sessions (8% vs 14%)”, the 14% might not be a superset of the 8%. In other words, there may be 8% for whom music doesn’t work, where gaming would work for 80% of that 8%, and 14% for whom gaming doesn’t work, where music would work for 80% of them. This would be similar to our conception of “learning styles”, in that one might be do “best” on some assessment, but one size does not fit all.

    Unfortunately something like that is pretty much impossible to study without access to a time machine or a bunch of clones. I could imagine a first-A-then-B vs. first-B-then-A vs. A vs. B vs. nothing study, possibly with an exit survey for the A/B preference in the groups that did both, but that would be a lot more work, would probably require small sample sizes, and then we would be suspicious of the results for that reason.

    Interesting question.

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    • Travis says:

      Excellent points, Doug. Let me also say that your phrasing(“Unfortunately something like that is pretty much impossible to study without access to a time machine or a bunch of clones”) is probably the single most awesome sentence I have ever seen in a comment thread, especially because it is a legitimate point.

      I would still argue that anything that costs >$1000 should be dramatically more effective than something which is essentially free (e.g. the radio). But I think you have a good point that some people may react more positively to active gaming than others.

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    • Anoop says:

      Sub-grouping?

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  2. shawmutt says:

    In the way of anecdotes, I remember reading a blog of a guy who lost 40 lbs using an incumbent bike while playing video games. Here is the link to the story: http://theweightlifter.blogspot.com/ That was five years ago and I wonder if he kept it off. Reading about his “diet” was kind of scary.

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  3. Shai-Hulud says:

    92% vs 86% adherence for music and game oriented session respectively which authors admit is high for both conditions.
    Authors suggest that video game conditions may be more demanding due to increased visuo-spatial attentional requirements. Let’s get the fMRI out ;P

    So which of the participants were gamers, by what level 1337ness and game type preference? A racing fan would probably perceive a greater intrinsic motivation to perform the gamebike exercise.

    Could playing a game influence the user into perceiving a less serious environment versus a straight forward exercise, thus influencing the motivation to push themselves?

    Could they have lost motivation to persist due to gameplay becoming less fun in combination with the controller device? Even a racing fan may be put off by not being able to control the car/bike as expected due to a poor controller. Maybe the device needs more calibration to for improved usability.

    Lower intensity with the games could be due to the gameplay objectives actually limiting the potential maximal intensity- so perhaps encouraging situations where the user just chills and cruises?

    Note that the user was given the choice to choose games at any point and to set the level of resistance as required. Bearing in mind that the authors excluded participants who had participated/planning to participate in aerobic activity, a rough guess could be that the participants could be have a less motivated personality trait. If the easier option could be chosen maybe too much choice is detrimental in this case?

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