Exergames, games that make the user to get up and move, are hardly a new phenomenon— remember the Power Pad for NES? But these days they’re making waves as some of the most popular games on the market— and for good reason. Exergames are designed to get users active by simulating a light to moderate intensity workoutIs Playing Exergames Really Exercising? A Meta-Analysis of Energy Expenditure in Active Video Games. Peng, W., Lin, J.H., Crouse, J. College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. 2011 Jun 13..

Get Your Game On — Why It Matters

Childhood obesity— and obesity in general— has been a central issue in the public sphere for years, contributing to a slew of health problems from diabetes to heart disease. Public concern over the so-called “obesity epidemic” has spurred overhauls of school lunch programs and even the food pyramid, yet it can sometimes still be a struggle to get off the couch. Studies suggest interactive exergames (like Wii Fit or Just Dance, for example) can have a positive health impact, burning calories and getting sedentary gamers more active than traditional games.

One study showed that middle schoolers expended more energy playing the games Dance Dance Revolution, LightSpace, Xavix, Cybex Trazer, and Sportwall than walking at 3 mph (Wii Boxing expended slightly less energy than walking)Energy Cost of Exergaming: a Comparison of the Energy Cost of 6 Forms of Exergaming. Bailey, B.W., McInnis, K. Department of Exercise Sciences, College of Life Sciences, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, USA. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 2011 Jul;165(7):597-602.. And while all the children enjoyed the games, children with the highest BMIs enjoyed the games most, suggesting that exergames could be a useful tool in fighting obesity among those at greatest risk.

Another study of college students found that participants were 30 percent more likely to attend video game-based exercise sessions than traditional sessionsThe Health Benefits of Interactive Video Game Exercise. Warburton, D.E., Bredin, S.S., Horita, L.T., et al. Unit II Osborne Centre, Cardiovascular Physiology and Rehabilitation Laboratory, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 2007 Aug;32(4):655-63.. Due to their increased attendance and training, gamers’ systolic blood pressure was also lower than the traditional exercise group, reducing potential damage to organs like the brain and kidneys.

While it’s tempting to desperately grasp onto these positive studies like a sweaty Wii remote during an intense round of bowling, there’s more to the story. While studies agree that exergames beat loafing on the couch, they may not be a realistic substitute for actual exercise. A study of 13 to 15 year olds revealed that while Wii boxing and tennis burned 174 and 179 calories per hour, respectively, actual boxing and tennis burned roughly twice as many (382 and 318, respectively)Comparison of Energy Expenditure in Adolescents When Playing New Generation and Sedentary Computer Games: Cross Sectional Study. Graves, L., Stratton, G., Ridgers, N.D., et al. Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Henry Cotton Campus, Liverpool, England. BMJ, 2007 Dec 22;335(7633):1282-4..

Like most good things in life, it all comes down to balance and moderation. Do exergames beat traditional video games and other sedentary activities? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to replace P.E. class or a gym session with video games. Exergames should be used as a complement to a real-world exercise routine, not a complete replacement.