Exergames Are A Fun Way To Stay Active At Any Age

Regular exercise is so important for managing diabetes, and the number one secret to getting regular exercise may be choosing activities we enjoy.

Those still searching for a workout they can call both beneficial and enjoyable might consider active play video games, or exergames. They are a fun way to get moving without leaving the comfort of our home, though some exergames can now travel with us via apps on mobile devices.

Exergames provide people of all ages with a variety of activities that can be adjusted to current fitness levels. While each gaming system is unique, they typically offer muscle strengthening and toning workouts, aerobic dances and exercises, stretching or yoga, martial arts activities, and competitive recreational games such as table tennis, golf, bowling, and skiing.

Exergame Benefits

Most exergames provide, at best, a moderate intensity workout, but many of them meet the American Heart Association’s criteria for “moderate intensity daily activity.” In many games the intensity level can be adjusted up or down, and this flexibility - plus the fun factor - makes many exergames great beginner activities for sedentary types who are reluctant to move, but know they should.

Research on the benefits of exergames is scarce, but people who regularly play them report having better balance, improved muscle tone, and increased coordination. Plus, playing exergames with family and friends provides encouragement, and the social connections that can brighten our mood.

However, just because playing games is fun doesn’t mean we can throw caution to the wind. Though the intensity level is low to moderate, those who have not exercised in a while should get a doctor’s okay before engaging in exergames.

Workout Intensity

To get an idea of exergames’ intensity level, we can compare the metabolic equivalent (MET), or energy expenditure of different activities. With 1.0 being the baseline MET of sitting still, here are the METs of a few other activities, including a couple Nintendo Wii exergames:

  • Typing: 1.3 METs
  • Wii yoga: 1.9 METs
  • Walking slowly: 2.3 METs
  • Wii aerobics: 3.2 METs
  • Walking 3 mph: 3.3 METs
  • Jogging: 7 METs

Clearly, no one can prepare for a marathon playing exergames, and for most individuals these video-based workouts should supplement regular exercise routines. However, some activity is always better than none, and exergames might get some people with inertia issues moving more often. "You can become more fit with relatively simple activities, so these games have a lot of potential," says Dr. JoAnne Foody, at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Getting Started

Home exergame systems (e.g. Nintendo Wii Fitness, X-Box Kinect Sports) run about $250 or more for a basic setup that usually includes a console plus accessories such as handheld controls, software, or balance boards. While the cost of gaming equipment might be prohibitive for some, places such as Amazon sell used systems for much less.

Sources: Harvard Health; ACSM

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