'Active' Video Games Burn Calories

Study: Kids Who Play Active Video Games Burn Four Times as Many Calories as Kids Who Play Traditional Games

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 02, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 2, 2008 -- Kids who play activity-oriented video games are getting quite a workout, a new study shows.

Video and computer gaming is a popular pastime for school-aged children, but such activities have been wrought with criticism. Research has shown that children who play seated video games for extended amounts of time have an increased risk for obesity.

"Active" gaming systems may help combat this problem. Such entertainment systems allow players to become part of the game. For example, an activity-oriented video game might virtually place someone in a tennis match and allow the person to swing at a ball. Body movements are necessary in order for the game to function.

Researchers reporting in this month's issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine have found that children who play active video games burn four times as many calories as kids who play traditional seated ones.

Robin R. Mellecker, BSc, and Alison M. McManus, PhD, of the Institute of Human Performance, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, examined how a child's heart rate and calorie expenditure changed when playing an active game using the XaviX bowling and XaviX J-Mat gaming systems.

The study involved 18 children aged 6 to 12. Kids rested for five minutes before the gaming session began. They started with a seated computer bowling game, followed by an active bowling game and then an action/running game. The kids played each game for five minutes, and rested for the same amount of time in between the two action games.

Twiddling one's thumbs does burn some calories. Playing any type of video game burned more calories than resting.

Adding activity to an otherwise seated video game boosted the number of calories burned. Kids burned 0.6 more calories per minute playing active bowling than the seated bowling game and 3.9 more calories per minute playing on the action mat. Their heart rates were also significantly higher during the active games than during rest. Kids displayed 20 more beats per minute during the active bowling session and 79 more beats per minute on the XaviX J-Mat.

Study authors say their results show that the two active gaming formats result in "meaningful increases in energy expenditure" compared to traditional seated video games.

"Preventing weight gain requires an energy adjustment of approximately 150 kilocalories [calories] per day. The four-fold increase in energy expenditure when playing on the XaviX J-Mat would fill the proposed energy gap, if this game were played for 35 minutes a day," the researchers write in a news release.

Researchers encourage additional research to determine whether active gaming can lead to "sustainable increases in childhood physical activity.”

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Mellecker, R. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, September 2008; vol 162: pp. 886-891.

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