GC: Everybody dance now: Video games get young, old off couch to exercise

Trysta Eakin

June 16, 2011 at 1:16 a.m.

The days of gym memberships and personal trainers may begin to wane as video gaming companies continue to infiltrate the fitness industry.

Once thought to be a sedentary enterprise, video games have been made popular among all age groups with consoles like Xbox Kinect and exergames like "Wii Fit," creating a marriage of entertainment and exercise.

Proof positive

In a study released this year, the American Council on Exercise found that older adults have jumped on the "Wii Fit" wagon and are using exergames at an increasing rate.

"Exergames are a safe, fun and engaging way to get older adults moving - and off the couch. In addition to providing older adults the opportunity to play games and sports that they normally wouldn't have access to, some exergames provide a cardiovascular stimulus, increase energy expenditure and offer an enjoyable and rewarding alternative to sedentary activities," concluded the ACE's research.

Local senior advocates have taken notice to this trend as well, with "Wii Bowling" offered at the Victoria County Senior Citizen Center.

The center's executive director Debbie Garner said they started offering the activity two years ago as a way to get the participants up and exercising.

"It's really good for the elderly because they can do all these activities without having to go outside in the heat or the stress of holding a ball," the retired physical education and health teacher said. "The point is to get your heart rate up and this does that without the risk of stress fractures or broken bones."

Each session is held once a month with about eight to 10 participants, who are 60 years or older, Garner said, and gamers play four at a time, as the center has one Wii with a big-screen TV.

Bowling is the game most often requested, but the other games on "Wii Sports Resort" can also be played, she said.

Move that body

Older adults are not the only ones enjoying the benefits of exergames. Young people have gravitated toward games like "Dance, Dance Revolution" and "Zumba," which provide aerobic exercise and coordination enhancement.

A study found that, after continuously playing "In The Groove" for five months, 120 Oregon elementary students saw improvements in their selfesteem, classroom behavior and social skills, while reducing absenteeism and improving their mile run times by an average of 14 percent.

The gaming world has introduced three leading systems that provide optimal playing pleasure: Xbox Kinect, Wii and PlayStation Move.

With technological advances in consoles and games replacing workout videos and outdated exercise equipment, fitness and fun are getting closer together on the scales.

Not all fun and games

The University of Mississippi's 2009 research showed, however, that like with any other exercise or diet plan, it takes commitment to improve your fitness level, even with a video game.

The school's professor of health and exercise science, Scott Owens, followed eight families who had a Wii for six months, tracking its health benefits. The amount of daily use dropped off significantly - by 82 percent - after the first six weeks of use, leading to the conclusion that small amounts of daily Wii activity doesn't improve fitness levels.

So if you're hoping to use exergames to trim your waistline and tone those thighs for summer, don't just stare at the game cover; get up and do it.



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