Exercise in virtual reality almost as good as the real thing

2013-07-05T00:00:00Z 2013-07-05T13:36:15Z Exercise in virtual reality almost as good as the real thingby Lorenzo Patrick nwitimes.com
July 05, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Characters from video games such as Mario from Super Mario Brothers and the Master Chief in Halo get a tremendous amount of exercise, based solely on the running that is needed to complete each game.

Unfortunately, since it's not played on a motion-capturing system like the Xbox Kinect or the Wii, all that movement is stuck in virtual reality.

Australian researcher reported in May in the Journal of Pediatrics,”exergaming,” or exercise with the use of video games, can prove to be beneficial to children.This includes the obvious gaming titles like “Wii Fit” and “Kinect Sports,” and some slightly less unexpected games like “Dance Dance Revolution.”

“From a number of studies that we have conducted, we know that exercise and physical activity can induce numerous health benefits for children, and even reverse the early changes in the blood vessels and heart that we can observe in these obese and diabetic children and adolescents,” said Louise Naylor of School of Sport Science, Medicine and Health at the University of Western Australia, who led the study. “The importance of this is that these improvements translate to a reduction in the likelihood of developing future cardiovascular disease.”

She and her colleagues observed 15 children, from ages nine to 11, who participated in 15 minutes each of high and low-intensity “exergaming,” and a graded exercise test on a treadmill. They measured the energy used by the children along with their hearts' response to the exercise by using flow-mediated dilation. High-intensity “exergaming,” like the 200-meter hurdles on Kinect Sports, was found to be similar to moderate intensity exercise in terms of energy used. Low-intensity “exergaming,” like Wii Bowling, was similar to low-intensity exercise. The former kind of “exergaming” was the only kind to cause a change in flow-mediated dilation, meaning it's possible high-intensity “exergaming” could improve heart health in children.

“While we found that while the high-intensity games did lead to a change in the blood vessels, and that they were just as enjoyable as the low-intensity games, it is important for children to experience a variety of sports and activities, and to get fresh air and play outside,” Naylor said. “Video games can’t replace that, but we should be encouraging children to get up and move around while playing video games instead of sitting down when they playing games or watch TV.”

Though children may now have an extra reason to ask their parents for the new versions of the PlayStation, Xbox, and Wii, all of which now have the motion-capturing technology built in, adults still understand the importance of a varied experience.

“As far as exercise gaming goes, the majority of the applications for it are nursing homes, just to keep people active. I've seen a lot of that, besides home use,” said Michael Davis, manager of a video game store in Lake View. “It could be an option, but that would not be the only tool I would use for my children. Kids need to just go out and experience life. Go ride bikes and be with friends, that kind of thing.”

Studies have not yet been completed on the long-term benefits of “exergaming” for children, nor is there any extensive work on adults who use the technology. That hasn't stopped them from feeling the burn.

“I like it, though I don't necessarily get all my exercise in from the Wii,” said Demi Yao, retail clerk at a media exchange store in Lake View “If I do exercise, I like to do more cardio. But, when I can't go to the gym, I will definitely play [Dance Dance Revolution] for like two hours.”

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

In This Issue