Active video games such as Kinect burn enough calories to qualify as exercise, study suggests

Washington Redskins' linebacker London Fletcher, right, and Noah Moore box each other on Kinect for Xbox 360 at the GenYouth Summit held last week.  (Kevin Wolf/Invision for Xbox/AP Images)
Washington Redskins' linebacker London Fletcher, right, and Noah Moore box each other on Kinect for Xbox 360 at the GenYouth Summit held last week. (Kevin Wolf/Invision for Xbox/AP Images)

I know it’s politically incorrect to suggest that kids jump up from a sedentary game of chess and partake in a round of active video game boxing, but the latter activity might actually burn enough calories to quality as a form of exercise.

That’s the finding of a study published Monday in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine in which 18 children ages 11 to 15 tried out boxing and dancing on Kinect for the Microsoft Xbox 360. They found that the games increased calorie-burning by 150 percent for the game Dance Central and 263 percent for Sports Boxing, which burned up to 172 extra calories per hour compared with when they were sitting and playing a traditional video game.

Dance Central raised the children’s heart rate to an average 118 beats per minute and Kinect Sports Boxing raised it to 131 beats per minutes, which was more than 50 percent higher than their resting heart rate.

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“Whether such heart rates are adequate for increasing cardiovascular fitness is debatable,” wrote the British study’s authors. But most likely they’re comparable to light-intensity exercise such as ballroom dancing, bowling, and walking.

Compared with previous research that measured calorie-burning on the Wii system dance and boxing games, the Kinect system burned moderately more calories, most likely because it involves motion sensors rather than a hand-held controller that limits body movements.

The study was funded by the University of Chester, where the research was conducted—not Kinect—so we don’t have to worry about biased results. But it was small, so results still need to be confirmed with larger studies.

Very few American kids, as well as their British counterparts, get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day because, well, they spend a lot of their leisure time playing electronic games. “Although active gaming single handedly cannot substitute [for] traditional outdoor play or sports, it may bridge the gap in the low physical activity levels currently being observed,” study author Michael Morris, of the University of Chester, wrote in an e-mail.

And, no, he doesn’t endorse Kinect over Wii, but he does think kids should be encouraged to choose video games that get them up and moving rather than sedentary gaming that, he wrote, “typically involves no more than the twiddling of thumbs.”