By Marni Jameson The Orlando Sentinel
ORLANDO, Fla. — Often derided for contributing to the obesity epidemic, video games may actually be part of the solution, particularly if they promote exercise, according to a survey released Thursday.
Three out of four adults said video games should encourage physical activity, and 70 percent believe the games can complement traditional exercise, according to the survey funded by UnitedHealth Group.
Jessica Brooks of Thornton Park, Fla., didn’t need a survey to convince her. The 26-year-old dietitian, who works at Orlando Regional Medical Center, cranks up her Wii a couple of times a week and works on her dance moves while getting a workout.
“I do it when I feel like it, or when I have people over,” she said. “It’s really fun to do as a group.” Her Wii time complements her other exercise, which includes Zumba classes and walking.
“It’s absolutely good exercise,” she said. “If you’re sweaty and get your heart rate up,” which happens after an hour of her Just Dance program, “who cares how you get there.”
Video games have become a part of the American lifestyle, and “we want to meet people where they are,” said Richard Migliori, a physician and executive vice president of health services at UnitedHealth Group.
“We saw video games as a natural means of engaging kids and adults in healthy activities,” he said. “The survey confirms what we suspected: There’s an appetite for physically active video games, and that appetite is particularly high in homes that have kids.”
To conduct the survey, researchers questioned 1,015 adults age 18 or older by phone.
More than half of respondents, 54 percent, said physically active video games would encourage them to be more active, while 60 percent of those with children at home said children should play physically active video games as a complement to traditional exercise.
The survey defined the physically active video games as those that require “body movement to control the activity on the screen.” Just moving your thumbs doesn’t count.
Among the wide variety of games available are those where you race your avatar, bowl or play tennis against the screen.
Wii Fit programs and Kinect for Xbox 360 are two systems that offer the kinds of video games that get you moving.
Brooks’ favorite Just Dance program is Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” routine.
“You can either be Michael or you can be one of the backup dancers,” she says. “You learn the moves and feel like you’re super cool. You definitely feel sore the next day.”
Migliori and his colleagues are working to capitalize on that brand of enthusiasm.
“The intersection of health and video gaming holds enormous potential benefit for individuals, families and the entire health care system,” he said. “We are continuing to explore ways to make this a reality for consumers.”
“Video games could very well be part of the solution,” said Lee A. O’Donnell, corporate manager of prevention and wellness for Orlando Health. They are a good starting place or could be a good supplement for someone who already has a workout routine.
“I’m for anything that keeps exercise fun. I don’t care what you’re doing, whether you’re playing tennis against the computer or swimming in an outdoor pool, as long as you’re active,” said O’Donnell, who recommends 30 minutes of sustained activity most days a week.
Although home-exercise equipment and exercise videos eliminate the hassle of getting to a gym — a common obstacle to exercise — video games improve the experience, say proponents, because they add the feedback and competition.
By providing immediate scores, times and points, they help those personalities that thrive on a sense of competition stick with the activity.
“When you can put what would otherwise be drudgery into a competitive activity, adherence goes up, and therefore so does success,” Migliori said. “When you add competition with others, intensity goes up, too.”
Respondents indicated that along with the video games, they would welcome other feedback mechanisms, such as heart-rate monitors, pedometers and downloadable apps to track exercise and diet.
Though those surveyed said these games and devices would make them more active, whether they do remains to be seen, he said. “The results are enough to give us confidence that this direction is worth investing in.”