Certain video games can improve fitness

Laird Harrison | Disclosures

ORLANDO, Florida — Although often implicated as a factor in the worldwide obesity epidemic, video games can improve fitness, a batch of new studies show.
The studies were presented here at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) 61st Annual Meeting.
In a pair of studies by one group of researchers, markers of strength, agility, endurance, and body composition improved significantly in college students after they played Just Dance 4 Kinect for the Xbox (Microsoft) for 2 months.
“Based on our study, we can say that health-related fitness and skill-related fitness could improve,” said coauthor Chieh-Hsin Tsai, from Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan.
The Kinect games use sensors to detect players’ movements. “It’s real dancing,” Tsai said. “You don’t need to hold a console because the sensors follow you.”
Previous research has established that people burn calories when playing active video games (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166:1005-1009). Kinect games encourage such movement, as do Wii games (Nintendo), which involve the use of a console.
The studies presented here reinforce that finding.
But researchers have only recently begun to assess the effects of these “exergames” on health.
For their studies, Tsai and his colleagues randomly assigned college students to play 1 of 2 video games at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes at a time for a period of 8 weeks. Eight students played Just Dance 4 and 5 played a sedentary video game (control group).
The researchers calculated, on the basis of metabolic equivalents, that the dance game met ACSM standards for moderate to vigorous exercise.
At baseline, mean body mass index (BMI) was 27.07 kg/m² in the dance group and 26.86 kg/m² in the control group.
The researchers used oxygen consumption as a measure of cardiorespiratory endurance, long jump distance as a measure of power, the V-sit and reach test as a measure of flexibility, and the number of side-step jumps completed as a measure of agility. Improvements were significant.
Table 1. Changes in Fitness After 8 Weeks

There was no significant difference between the 2 groups in balance, speed, or reaction time after the 8-week period.
In a parallel study, Tsai’s team assessed overweight or obese college students; 7 were assigned to the Just Dance 4 cohort and 7 were assigned to the control group.
After 8 weeks, improvements in the dance group were significant.
Table 2. Body Composition After 8 Weeks

After viewing the posters, Julien Tripette, PhD, from the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Shinjuku, Japan, told Medscape Medical News that he got similar results in a study of a Nintendo game, but wanted to know more.
“Everyone gets positive effects in 8 weeks,” he said. “But we have fewer data on longer periods. The problem is the adherence of the subjects.”
Over time, people get bored of playing the same game, Dr. Tripette explained. And it’s not clear whether subjects supplied with a free game for the purpose of a study would be likely to buy their own games and continue using them.
Research by 2 other groups presented at the meeting suggests that participating in active video games might not quite take the place of exercising with other people.
Both studies showed that subjects who attended a Zumba fitness class with a live instructor achieved a significantly higher heart rate during the workout than those who used the Zumba Fitness Kinect game.
Mr. Tsai and Dr. Tripette have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) 61st Annual Meeting : Abstracts 403, 402, 326, and 324. Presented May 28, 2014.