A Kansas State University researcher says that games like Nintendo's Wii Fit - which incorporate yoga, strength training, balance and aerobics - may be utilised as a promising tool to promote physical activities for people of all ages.
The suggestion given by David Dzewaltowski, professor and head of the department of kinesiology at K-State and director of the university's Community Health Institute, contrasts the belief that emerging technologies can create environments that require very little physical effort, and thus promote sedentary activities among people.
"I think there is a great potential to develop ways to promote physical activity through technology. Kids innately like to move, so I believe that there is a big future in games that use emerging technologies and require movement because the games will be enjoyed by children and also be more healthy than existing games," said Dzewaltowski.
In a commentary published in the journal Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, Dzewaltowski highlights the fact that Wii Fit has interactive games that require the player to physically move, which is better than nothing.
He says that the game uses a balance board and allows gamers to simulate challenges, such as snowboarding down a mountain.
"Anything that gets people to move more than they have in the past is positive, but if people are trying to replace physical activity that demands more movement with the Wii, then that will be negative," Dzewaltowski said.
He admitted that it was difficult in a small indoor space to replicate the intensity of some real-life physical activities, but pointed out that dance video games were effective at demanding physical movements that require caloric expenditure.
"The caloric expenditure demanded by an activity depends on the energy necessary to move the body's weight to complete the task and how long you perform the task," Dzewaltowski said.
The researcher further said that one would spend different amounts of calorie while performing different activities-playing a game of soccer demands much more energy expenditure than bowling or playing the outfield in baseball.
Dzewaltowski is of the opinion that Wii Fit may serve as an effective tool to create or maintain a healthy lifestyle for some people because it follows the basic principles for adhering to an exercise program-such as having physical activity goals, tracking those goals and evaluating the progress.
He also calls Wii Fit a good screening tool for adults because it measures players' body mass index (BMI), a weight evaluation based on height and weight.
Given that a player could categorize himself as being overweight or obese, Dzewaltowski said that he should seek more information from a health professional who could better evaluate the level of body fat.
However, the calculation would not be suitable for kids, said the researchers.
"For children, the BMI calculation has to be expressed based on age and gender growth charts, and it doesn't do that. Due to children's age and gender differences in growth, the adult BMI calculators don't work. My use of the Wii BMI calculator showed that it was inappropriate for children and would categorize children incorrectly," Dzewaltowski said.
Although the game also gives players fitness age measurements, Dzewaltowski does not consider it to be credible.
He said that it was more important to focus on behaviours like physical activity and fruit and vegetable consumption than on the game's BMI and fitness age measurements.
Dzewaltowski thinks that gamers can solely rely on Wii Fit for exercise if they are meeting the guidelines for physical activity set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
He said that future technologies should continue to promote physical activity if they made exercise enjoyable, especially for adults.
"I also believe that adults enjoy movement if they are at a fitness level where they can perform the activity comfortably. The problem is most adults have very poor fitness levels. So, I believe there is a future in developing games that include movement and demand caloric expenditure at the level of the participant," Dzewaltowski said.