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Posts Tagged ‘Active Video Games’

Better Than Your Mother’s Workout DVD?

March 7th, 2012 at 12:34 pm by timigustafson

The so-called “active video games” that run on Microsoft’s Xbox or Nintendo Wii were supposed to make a big difference in the way people, especially kids, exercise at home and, hopefully, lose weight and get back in shape. That hasn’t happened yet, at least not on a large scale, according to researchers who studied the impact of these relatively recent innovations on children’s health.

Active video games offer virtual tennis, track and field or dancing experiences, which are meant to encourage consumers to get off the couch and move their bodies. In areas where opportunities for outdoor activities are sorely missing, where going to the gym requires a long drive, or where schools don’t offer physical education (PE), health advocates had hoped for an alternative tool to fill the gap. That expectation has so far been frustrated.

For the study, a research team from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, distributed free active as well as inactive video games among a group of 9 to 12 year olds who were all above average weight. As it turned out, the children who played the active games lost no more weight than those who stuck to the inactive versions, like sing-alongs.

“We expected that playing the [active] video games would in fact lead to a substantial increase in physical activity in the children,” said Dr. Tom Baranowski, one of the researchers at Baylor in an interview with Reuters Health. “Frankly, we were shocked by the complete lack of difference.”

Over a time period of roughly 3 months, the children were tracked and monitored for their physical activity levels through a motion-measuring device called an accelerometer. The results showed an average of 25 to 28 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity among the kids who played active videos and 26 to 29 minutes for those who only played inactive ones.

Active video games “might increase caloric expenditure a bit more than a traditional sedentary video game, and if you do that on a daily basis that could have a cumulative effect that might be beneficial,” said Dr. Jacob Barkley, an exercise scientist from Kent State University who was not involved in the study. [But it] isn’t going to increase physical activity a whole heck of a lot,” he added.

In the meantime, sales of traditional workout DVDs remain strong, and not just among the Jane Fonda fans from decades ago. According to Reuters, 18 to 34 year olds account for 35 percent of fitness DVD buyers, followed by 35 to 50 year olds at 33 percent and people 55 and older at 20 percent.

Only lately has the weight loss and fitness industry begun focusing on children due to the ever-growing childhood obesity rates in the U.S. and much of the world. Workout DVDs can be cheaply produced and are easy to use, which makes them a viable alternative to more sophisticated and more expensive formats.

Still, health experts warn that we should not expect too much from the low-impact exercises you can do in front of your TV screen. All this virtual jumping, throwing and dancing or even the pushups people do on the living room floor do not compare to the impact you get from running in the park, swimming laps in an Olympic-size pool or working out in a well-equipped gym. But, I agree, it’s better than nothing.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (, and at You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit

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