Playing ‘active’ video games can be just as healthy as jogging

BATH, United Kingdom — Video games and fitness don’t usually go together, but a new study reveals that if you play the right kind of games, you can actually improve your health by as much as you do while jogging. Researchers from the University of Bath find playing “active” video games produces similar health benefits to exercising on a treadmill.

Active video games, or “exergames,” focus on the player using body movements to control the game to score points. While traditional gaming gets a bad reputation for encouraging a sedentary lifestyle and too much screen time, researchers say playing exergames on systems like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox can help type 1 diabetes patients stay healthy.

Additionally, the team finds type 1 diabetics also find active gaming more enjoyable and have more motivation to participate compared to regular exercise.

Xbox just as good as a treadmill?

Study authors from the U.K. and Brazil conducted a randomized trial involving type 1 diabetes patients playing active video games or running on a treadmill at moderate intensity. For the gaming portion of the test, each patient used the Kinect Adventures game with the Kinect system on Xbox. The system uses a camera to track players’ movements throughout the game.

Researchers then measured each person’s heart rate, blood pressure, efficiency of oxygen consumption, and their ability to maintain blood fluidity immediately after, 30 minutes after, and 24 hours after the exercise sessions.

Results show that active video games produced “very similar physiological effects” when the team compared the results to those from traditional treadmill exercising. Blood glucose levels also dropped to safe levels during both types of exercise for the diabetes patients.

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Video games are also more fun

The main difference the team discovered is that the volunteers found video games much more motivating and fun than running on a treadmill. Participants noted that the added element of scoring points, earning badges, or gaining virtual rewards helped to encourage them to continue with the exercise and improve their performance.

“Exercise is already recommended by doctors as a drug-free way of managing diabetics’ blood sugar levels, along with diet, but it can be difficult for people to stick to exercise routines long term,” says Dr. Pooya Soltani in a university release.

“Whilst it’s not the magic solution to keeping active, we found that players enjoyed playing exergames way more than running. This is really important when adherence to traditional physical activities is generally low in diabetic patients.”

While the team says video games shouldn’t become a complete replacement for exercise, exergames can help people stay more active — especially if they suffer from long-term conditions like diabetes.

“Playing exergames could help some diabetics in managing a lifelong condition,” says Dr. Jorge Brito-Gomes from Universidade Federal do Vale do São Francisco, Brazil. “Gamifying exercise not only takes your mind off the exertion, but working towards rewards in the game or even competing against friends helps motivate you to keep coming back to do more.”

The findings appear in the Games for Health Journal.