If you want people to do something that’s good for them, it helps if you can make it relevant and fun. That’s why I’m happy to report that video gaming – which has long been the precise opposite of exercise – is getting an overhaul, and becoming an attractive delivery vehicle for healthy movement.
It started with Nintendo’s Wii system several years ago. Gamers got up off the couch to hold a controller and to participate physically with a video game: to bowl, box, or play tennis or baseball in their living rooms. With Microsoft’s release of the Kinect system, gamers (and non-gamers) continue to be gently nudged to their feet. This is a sensor-based system that uses body movements as the game controller, allowing the player to run a marathon, raft down class-five rapids, or dance like a pro. Many of these programs are vigorous workouts that can work up a serious sweat. (I should emphasize that I have no connection to any of the companies named, and there may be other, better alternatives on the market now. It’s the trend that I support, not any specific products or brands.)
I would never suggest that anyone get all of their exercise by means of video gaming. As with diet, variety is key, and there are some exercise experiences that are difficult to get by interacting with a game on a screen – swimming, for example. And I’m a big fan of functional exercise – that is, activities like walking, climbing, lifting, carrying loads, etc., especially when they accomplish necessary or satisfying tasks. Some studies have shown that accomplishing a specific, useful goal – such as mowing the lawn with a nonmotorized, “push” mower – can make exercise more rewarding, and help people to stick with it. Functional exercise uses the body in ways for which it is designed.
But I’m encouraged by this new turn technology is taking. Video gaming, particularly among the younger generations, is here to stay, so the more healthy and active it can become, the better. If you do get your kids a system – and, as a parent, the decision is ultimately yours, not theirs – one that requires physical activity could be the best choice.
Andrew Weil, M.D.