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Video games: Exercise for kids?

Focused on Health - September 2013

by Adelina Espat

kids video games exercise

When my six-year-old son asked for a Kinect®, a motion-sensing controller for video games, he looked at me seriously and said, “Mom, I need more exercise.”

Well, he had the right pitch. That’s because encouraging kids to adopt healthy habits at a young age can put them on the right path to preventing cancer and other diseases later in life.

But do these active-play video games actually give kids the 60 minutes of daily activity they need to stay healthy?

“It depends,” says Carol Harrison, a senior exercise physiologist at MD Anderson. “Most experts agree that active-play video games, ones that require the participant to interact and get up from a sitting position, can increase physical activity.”

But not all games are created equal – some active-play video games result in more “exercise” than others. So, how do you find games that promote enough activity to raise your kid’s heart rate?

Harrison offers these suggestions.

Visit the game console site

Learn more about the game before purchasing. And, make sure it’s age-appropriate. Game console websites have lots of information. Some sites even allow you to view sample videos of the games to get familiar with features.

Most video games for consoles that use wireless controllers, motion detectors or special cameras that capture live images qualify as active-play. That’s because players move their arms and legs to manipulate the actions in the game, says Harrison.  

For consoles that use a wireless motion controller, like the Wii®, look at the game category. If the video game falls under sports, dance or fitness, that’s a good sign your kid will be up and off the couch.

Review the game before buying

kids video games exercise

You can rent video games from most video rental stores and websites. This is definitely a more affordable way to test a new active-play game in your household before purchasing. Plus, you can find out which games really have what it takes to entice your kid to move.

When you try the game at home, watch your kids while they play. Look for these cues to help you decide if the game’s a keeper.

  • Do your kids have to stand up to play the game?
  • Is the game exciting enough to get your kids to stay standing and enjoy active play for at least 30 minutes?
  • Are your kids moving at a high enough intensity to get their heart rate up? Are they sweating or short of breath?

If the answer to these questions is yes, you may have a winning game.

Don’t replace outdoor play with video games

kids exercise family

Active-play video games still won’t offer the same level of exercise as playing the actual sport or activity. So, don’t use them to replace outdoor activity.

“Children should still get a mixture of moderate activity, like walking or yard work, and vigorous activity, like running and playing soccer,” Harrison says.

READ ALSO: Active family, healthy kids

Treat video games as a way to motivate your kids to exercise and try other forms of physical activity. And remember, adults need exercise too. So, join your kids in the fun.

The best way to keep kids healthy is to set a good example for them, and physical activity is no exception. Always consult your pediatrician before starting your kids on any new fitness routine.

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