Wednesday, March 04, 2009
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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