It is recommended that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, with most of it being moderate intensity aerobic physical activity.
The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) even offers physical activity recommendations for toddlers and preschoolers. Toddlers should get at least 30 minutes of structured physical activity and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity each day. Preschoolers need a little more exercise -- at least 60 minutes of structured physical activity and at least 60 minutes of unstructured physical activity each day.
Unfortunately, many kids don't meet these daily recommendations for exercise and physical activity, which is one of the big reasons why so many kids are overweight.
A lack of opportunity to play outside or join a sports team, or simply preferring to watch TV and play video games are some of the reasons why many kids don't get more exercise. That's why many parents get excited about the idea of active video games, or exergames, like Wii Boxing or Dance Dance Revolution for the Wii, PlayStation3 or XBox 360, to help kids burn calories.
While a study a few years ago did show that playing active video games could be as effective as moderate physical activity, a new study that will be published in the March issue of Pediatrics, "Impact of an Active Video Game on Healthy Children's Physical Activity," found that there is "no reason to believe that simply acquiring an active video game under naturalistic circumstances provides a public health benefit to children."
The problem with active video games seems to be the same with actually exercising, you have to actually be motivated to play the exergames.
In the study, kids were given a Wii and either two active video games, such as EA Sports Active, Dance Dance Revolution Hottest Party 3, or Wii Fit Plus, etc., or two inactive video games, including Madden NFL 10, Mario Kart Wii, or Super Mario Galaxy, etc. Unfortunately, the kids who got the active video games were not any more active over a 12-week period than the kids who got the inactive video games.
That doesn't mean that you can't use exergames to help get your kids more active, but you almost certainly can't expect that one of these games is going to be a quick fix for a kid who is a couch potato. Instead, you will likely have to motivate and encourage your kids to play their exergames, just like you do to get their more active in real-life. It might also help to:
- choose exergames that your kids will enjoy, like Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Boxing
- play the games with your kids
- consider renting or borrowing a game before buying it to make sure it holds your child's attention and keeps them moderately active for at least 30 minutes
- vary the exergames your child plays, so he or she doesn't get bored with the same activity, even playing two or three games to make up a single workout
It might especially be a good idea to use exergames to supplement active free play or outdoor exercise instead of simply trying to replace all other activities. This can also be helpful when it is too hot, cold, or wet to go outside and play, or because your child's sport is out of season.