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Exergaming for Health

The relationship between the amount of time spent in front of a computer screen, and level of physical activity would be seemingly inversely related. However, this need not be the case. Exergaming, which promotes exercise while playing videogames, is not a new concept, but it has been drawing increasing attention. Some of the video gaming systems have sophisticated pressure and motion sensors which respond to the players movements in three-dimensional space.

A popular game is Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution, where players try to emulate a dance sequence on the screen by stomping on a pressure sensitive dance pad. Nintendo’s Wii is another new gaming system, in which players carry a motion sensitive control and must engage full joint and body range of motion while simulating activities such as playing tennis, golfing, or bowling. Eye toy takes the players movements in real space and reproduces the movements for the video game character. Hence, the player’s real space movements are controlling the video game character’s movements. These video games rely on more physical exertion by the players and hence result in more caloric output. Applications include increasing aerobic activity in both adults and children as a means to combat obesity.

A study which looked at metabolic changes when playing Ms. Pac-man versus standing still showed that heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen consumption were significantly increased when playing videogames versus when standing still. Participants included 32 males and females aged 16-25. Energy expenditure increased from 6.08 kj/min(standing still) to 10.94 kj/min(playing Ms. Pac-man). The increase in metabolic rate and cardiovascular stimulation was similar to mild-intensity aerobic exercise (1).

A study looking at the metabolic and physiologic effects of playing action videogames in adolescent boys was conducted at the University of Miami. The video game Tekken 3, which simulates a martial arts contest, was played. Baseline measurements were taken as well as during and after game play. There was a significant increase in heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and VE (pulmonary ventilation: the amount of air moved in and out of the lungs per minute). Serum lactate and glucose levels before and after game play did not show significant change. Energy expenditure was significantly increased during video game play and when extrapolated, amounted to about a 1.8kg of weight loss per year. Although energy expenditure is increased when playing video games more than when watching television, it is not as high as when performing aerobic activity (2).

The Mayo clinic looked at the difference between energy expenditure while watching television, while sitting and playing video games, while walking on the treadmill and watching television, and when using exercise promoting video games. The games used for analysis include Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution, Sony’s Eye toy, and Playstation 2. Energy expenditure more than doubled when using the exergaming systems versus when sitting and watching television or when seated and playing videogames(3).

Those who have decreased cardiac function and reduced aerobic capacity are advised to follow up with their healthcare providers for guidelines to exergaming. Although these studies pique a lot of interest, the research is still nascent. There is sometimes no substitute for the actual experience of an activity.


  1. PubMed: Physiologic responses to playing a video game
  2. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine
  3. Pediatrics Journal of AAP

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