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Could Exergaming Be the Key to Weight Loss?

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With the average American spending 50 or more hours a week in front of a television or cell phone screen, the number of people meeting national physical activity levels is as low as it’s ever been – a worrying 8%.

With the ever-rising popularity in video gaming, many experts now believe that incorporating exercise into virtual gaming could be the answer.

But could so called exergaming really improve your health and ability to lose weight?

In this article we take a look.


What is Exergaming?

Exergaming is a type of virtual reality platform that combines video games with activity, physical exertion or exercise.

Otherwise referred to as kinetic gaming, exergaming typically involves the use of sensors that allow you to control an in-game avatar. Gameplay involves simple finger movements on a controller, pressure pad, motion sensor or camera, but also incorporates full body movements.

A new way to exercise

According to the American College of Sports Medicine [1] the ever-increasing reliance on technology means that fewer and fewer people are meeting minimum activity guidelines.

But ironically, technology might also be the saviour. Exergaming is said to be the next popular wave of physical activity method for two main reasons:

  • Other modes of exercise are becoming less popular
  • Popularity of video gaming is on the increase

Technology – the way forward

You can’t argue that we live it a world full of technology. It practically immerses itself in every part of your life.

According to review studies, we currently spend around 50 hours a week looking at our cell phones, televisions and video games (one study suggests as high as 62 hours!). That makes it very difficult to achieve the recommended amount of daily physical activity needed to reduce body fat and lead a healthy lifestyle.

But of course if you combine the two, you can get the benefits of both can’t you?

Let’s see what the research says about exergaming and weight loss?



Could Exergaming Help You Lose Weight?

Ultimately, the only way you will lose weight is to achieve a calorie deficit. This means that by eating less calories than you burn off each day, you’ll tap into the energy stored in your fat cells and over time you’ll improve your body composition (your fat to lean mass ratio).

Aiming to achieve a deficit of around 20% or 500 calories per day seems to be the best way to lose fat, but at the same time preserve lean muscle levels and metabolic rate. Any lower than that and you run the risk of losing too much muscle and not enough fat.

Physical activities such as walking, running, weightlifting and sports just help the process along. It gives you a gentle (or sometimes not so gentle nudge in the right direction).

Exercise helps you burn extra calories and at the same time improve your health. In fact any physical activity can help you lose weight as long as you’re in an energy deficit.

Health Benefits

Exergaming can be fun

For many people, fun is the key to successful weight loss. And exergaming can be a lot more fun that traditional exercise. Which would you prefer – a 20 minute run along the sidewalk of your neighbourhood, or a 20 minute virtual tennis match against your best buddy?

Improves mental and physical health

A study published in Harvard Health Publications [2] reported that virtual reality gaming could help improve mental health rehabilitation, recovery from addiction and weight loss too. Interestingly, they also stated that it could improve public speaking and fear of open spaces as well.

Social interaction

Many exergaming platforms allow you to interact with, and play alongside friends and family – even if they’re not there with you.

It’s like the digital equivalent of meeting up for a chat and a coffee or going to the gym together.

Accessibility and confidence

One of the biggest barriers to successful weight loss is the confidence to set foot in the gym for fear of ridicule or failure. A great staring point is to increase your activity in the comfort of your own home – that way you can exercise at your own pace, choose your own intensity levels and slowly but surely start to boost your progress and motivation.

And whilst it might not be as taxing physically as a gym-based HIIT or weightlifting session, a good body-weight workout is a great way to get active.



Exergaming and Weight Loss Research Studies

There is an ever-increasing number of research studies being published relating to exergaming. And as a potential solution to the increasing obesity rates, there’s no surprise.

Study #1: Lanningham-Foster et al [3]

In this study, 25 volunteers had their energy expenditure measured whilst completing a number of different tasks. These included:

  • Watching television while sat down
  • Watching television while walking on a treadmill at 1.5 mph
  • Playing activity-promoting games such as dancing

Compared to being inactive, walking on a treadmill boosted calorie burning by 138% – quite a big increase. The exergaming group saw their calorie burn increase by a massive 172% – more than double the amount of the inactive group.

Study #2: Maddison et al [4]

This study wanted to shed some light on exactly how useful the ‘new generation’ of active video games were. To do this, the research team recruited 21 children all aged between 10-14 years old.

The children were split into one of two groups – either inactive, traditional video gaming, or active exergaming.

The exergaming group were significantly more active. Their calorie burn was 400% higher than traditional gaming and their heart rate was as much as 84% higher. Their ‘activity count’ – a simple measure of activity levels – was 1,288 as opposed to 23 in the non-active gaming group.

– You’d expect active gaming to be, well, more active, but these are pretty impressive results nonetheless.

Study #3: Staiano et al [5]

The dance theme was continued in this study published in the journal of Sport and Health Science.

37 overweight women were recruited to take part in a 12-week exergaming project. Half were asked to complete 36, 60-minute dance-based exergaming sessions. The other half weren’t asked to do anything specific.

Compared with the control group, the dance group reported higher levels of physical activity and fewer hours of watching television. They also reported having a more positive outlook on exercise too.



Summary

With fewer and fewer people meeting the national guidelines for physical activity, it is important to do all you can to get on your feet and exercise.

Exergaming is a great start point – it increases your metabolism and overall activity levels, and that’s good of course. Could it help you lose weight? The answer is yes, definitely. But is it something that you’ll stick too, or are you going to be left with a very expensive console that you don’t lose.

If you really want to lose weight then you need to follow a calorie controlled diet, have a regular activity program and for that extra push, consider a nutrient-rich fat burner supplement such as Instant Knockout.

We’re all for you using exergaming. It’s fun and adds a great social element to your day. But where possible, use it as a springboard to something more vigorous and targetted.


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References

  1. American College of Sports Medicine. https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/exergaming.pdf
  2. Skerrett, P. Virtual reality exergames may improve mental and physical health. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/virtual-reality-exergames-may-improve-mental-and-physical-health-201202244410
  3. Lanningham-Foster, L et al. Energy expenditure of sedentary screen time compared with active screen time for children. Pediatrics. 2006; 118(6): e1831–5
  4. Maddison, R et al. Energy expended playing video console games: an opportunity to increase children’s physical activity? Pediatr Exerc Sci. 2007; 19(3): 334-43
  5. Staiano, AE et al. Twelve weeks of dance exergaming in overweight and obese adolescent girls: Transfer effects on physical activity, screen time, and self-efficacy. J Sport Health Sci. 2016


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