Conventional wisdom typically considers video games and physical exercise as entirely separate activities. It’s safe to say that such assumptions have caused strife between countless parents and teenagers, spouses, and other family members since video games became features of the average household. In fact, past studies have identified a possible link between the excessive sedentary screen time involved in traditional video gaming and poor physical health.
However, technology that incorporates the physical movements of a player can provide exercise and stress relief without sacrificing the entertainment of digital gaming. The popularity of active video games, also known as “exergames,” may have convinced many that gaming while moving is at least better than gaming at a desk or on the couch.
Now, recent research has determined that exergaming may enhance the management of Type 1 diabetes. Published in Games for Health Journal, the study shows that playing active video games provides the same physical benefits as running on a treadmill.
In a joint effort between the Universidade Federal do Vale do São Francisco, Brazil, and the University of Bath in the U.K., researchers conducted a randomized trial exploring the physiological effects of exergaming. During the three-week study, participants who use insulin to control Type 1 diabetes either played active video games or ran on a treadmill for 30 minutes twice a week.
The research team measured heart rate, blood pressure, blood vessel function, and oxygen consumption immediately after the exercise and 24 hours post-session. Blood glucose was measured before, immediately following, and half an hour after the session. The participants also ranked their enjoyment levels after both running and gaming.
The results demonstrate that 30 minutes playing active games on a Microsoft Xbox 360 produced similar physiological effects to 30 minutes of treadmill running at moderate intensity. Both activities decreased blood glucose to safe levels after both activities.
Arguably the most important finding of the trial is that participants found exergaming much more fun than traditional exercise. While somewhat unsurprising, this result validates exergaming as a method to improve exercise motivation and consistency.
Savvy teens who cite the study may improve their chance of convincing their parents to buy a Nintendo Switch. But the impact of active gaming on cardiovascular health and blood glucose could push exergames beyond fun exercise into legitimate treatment for many chronic health conditions. Those factors would, of course, benefit healthy individuals as well.
Staying active can significantly improve adverse physiological conditions associated with diabetes. Providers may soon recommend playing exergames at home or in a clinical setting as part of an effective management plan for Type 1 diabetes. The researchers are planning their next active video game trial, which will investigate the effects of VR balance games on foot problems caused by diabetes.