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Is the Smart Cycle the way to increase Childhood Physical Activity Levels?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders

We know that kids need to be physically active. We also know that kids are spending more time watching TV and playing video games (collectively known as screen time) than ever before. Well, it's not surprising then that people have started to develop video games centered around the idea of physical activity/physical fitness. Now this certainly is not a new idea - I remember having a blast playing on my friend's Nintendo PowerPad as a kid. But I think we are kidding ourselves if we expect these products to have a real impact on childhood physical activity levels, and I will use an example to illustrate.

Pictured above is the Smart Cycle, a new children's toy produced by Fisher Price. The general idea is that the kids will ride the stationary bike, while being entranced by the screen that shows them pedaling through a virtual environment, playing games, and learning about math and spelling. Many people are excited about this new toy, and genuinely believe that it will help to increase physical activity levels in our children. And I can see the appeal - kids love video games, why not give them a video game that involves some physical activity. But in my opinion, video games like the Smart Cycle are not the best way to increase physical activity levels, and in fact, these types of games might even have a negative impact on physical activity levels in the long-term.

For physical activity to be sustained over the long-term (e.g. the entire lifespan), it has to be done in a way that is natural for that individual. I would argue that pedaling on a stationary bike while watching TV is not the natural way for kids to develop a lifelong love or physical activity. In my opinion, it's a better way for them to develop a lifelong love of video games, and we know that screen time is a strong predictor of obesity rates. One of the most enjoyable aspects of physical activity at any age is its social nature. For example, I played a ton of road hockey as a kid - partly because I love road hockey, but mainly because I loved hanging out with other kids. In fact, it was that social nature of physical activity which drew me to hockey throughout my childhood, and which drew me to distance running in high school and university (I will admit that female runners also helped draw me to running in high school). Video games cannot match the level of camaraderie found in traditional games like hopscotch and road hockey, and I don't think they ever will. And let's not forget that moving through the physical world (on a bike, a skateboard, or on your own two feet) can be a very fun and exhilarating experience that no video game will ever be able to match. No matter how fancy, I don't believe that any stationary bike will ever be as engaging for a 6 year old (or 60 year old) as riding their own bike outdoors. And if kids aren't engaged with physical activity at a young age, I don't think there is much chance they will be engaged as adults.

As always, we love to hear your comments - what are your thoughts and experiences with fitness games aimed at children or adults?


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2 Response to "Is the Smart Cycle the way to increase Childhood Physical Activity Levels?"

  1. Becky Mercer Said,

    I have to agree that targeting children will likely just increase their long-term desire to play more video games, and wont instill a life-long love of physical activity, but I have some different feelings when it comes to adults.
    My opinion is based 100% on a personal experience: the day I first hopped on an Expresso fitness bike at my gym. I now go to the gym more often and stay their longer in order to make progress/beat records/attain milestones on this machine. The different courses really do a decent job simulating cycling - something not feasible for me in the winter up here in Edmonton. These bikes are getting more and more popular at my gym, with friendly local competitions and races a regular occurence. There is a pretty decent online forum hosted by Expresso, and detailed statistics/tracking available if desired. I have no doubt that these bikes have increased and encouraged physical activity in adults - but admittedly, I am referring to an already active population which is a big confounder.
    On a different video game note, since I got my nintendo Wii, my overall hours gaming HAVE NOT increased, however, my activity during this gaming has certainly increased - and you wont convince me that Dance Dance Revolution can't be a good workout! Ive been really impressed with reports of Wii programs in LTC facilities: the games have been well received and engaged with by the patients (especially bowling and tennis), perhaps improving mobility, certainly improving social interaction and quality of life in these individuals.
    So overall I support active video games - especially for my own generation (I am 27) who could use an extra push in a format they are comfortable with.

    Posted on March 4, 2009 at 1:47 PM

  2. Travis Saunders, MSc Said,

    You make some excellent points Becky. My girlfriend volunteers at a longterm care facility and she has told me about the benefits of using the Wii in that environment.

    I think you are right that there are some benefits to using this type of equipment, especially in adult populations. I think you are bang-on when you suggest that these might be useful for people who are already active, but I don't know if it will have much of an impact on sedentary individuals.

    Posted on March 4, 2009 at 2:46 PM


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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