Active Video Games Not So Active After All, Study Finds

Active Healthy Kids Canada announced this week that they do not recommend using active video games for exercise. 

The organization recently convened an international team of researchers to survey the latest scientific evidence on video games and fitness. According to their findings, playing active video games doesn’t increase the time that kids spend on daily physical activity. Even “exergames” and motion systems that are designed to be active, like the Xbox Kinect and the Nintendo Wii, do not significantly boost children’s exercise levels.

On their website, Active Healthy Kids Canada recommends that children should experience at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day. While video games can get heart rates up, the physical intensity of playing a game just doesn’t measure up to playing sports.

According to the official Active Healthy Kids Canada report, children also tend to lose interest in video games too quickly. “Kids find active video games appealing, but research shows the novelty wears off over time and they don’t stick with them,” says Kelly Murumets, President and CEO of ParticipACTION.

In the report, researchers express concern that children who play video games are missing out on important health benefits. “Active video games also don’t offer the fresh air, vitamin D, connection with nature and social interactions that come with outdoor active play,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, Chief Scientific Officer of Active Healthy Kids Canada.  

While it’s fun to enjoy video games with friends, the organization advises that games should not be used as a substitute for real physical activity. For this reason, they also recommend that the money families spend on active video games “might be better spent on skipping ropes, balls, ice skates or other sporting equipment.”

This is the first time that Active Healthy Kids Canada has stated its official position on active video games, but they have already reported widely on other technologies. According to their annual Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, Canadian children in Grades 6 to 12 spend seven hours and 48 minutes in front of a screen each day. Yet the same report shows that 92% of children would rather play with friends than watch television.

On their website, Active Healthy Kids Canada encourages anyone thinking about buying a video game system to consider the results of their research before making a purchase. The organization is also holding a webinar for the public featuring lead researchers from the project on December 4.