COLLIER COUNTY — While Wii fitness games are better for kids than doing no exercise at all, there’s still no substitute for the real thing.
Naples physical therapist Bruce Meert says some of the more physical Wii games could indeed benefit otherwise sedentary youngsters. Key elements are fitness and balance.
But, he cautioned, kids learn to cheat games very quickly, so they might end up just sitting and playing them.
“It’s my understanding that some of the newer games coming out require more activity by the kids,” said Meert, of Medical and Sports Rehab Center in Naples. “To keep playing, they have to keep up the activities, otherwise the game shuts down.”
But, he added, the adage of no substitute for the real thing applies.
“If you take (Wii) tennis, for example,” Meert said, “kids really need to get outside and hit balls.”
Go play tag in the yard; enjoy a game of hide and seek or duck duck goose ... all these simple games involve movements that later develop into more sophisticated physical activities and motor skill refinement, says exercise expert Cedric X. Bryant.
The chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, Bryant says however, that while video games, computers, iPads and smart phones all contribute to children’s sedentary lifestyles, there is some benefit attached to playing Wii games.
“If they are going to play games,” Bryant said in a phone interview from Los Angeles, “certainly the Wii Fit and Dance Revolution are better choices.”
He agreed with Meert, however, that a competitive game like Wii boxing can be manipulated by kids.
“Kids are competitive,” he said, “so they will develop strategies to conserve energy to perform well in the game,” he said.
Part of the “couch potato” problem is that children have basically forgotten how to play, Bryant said. “They’re now active mostly in structured environments, but free play is a lost art.”
Old-style neighborhoods conducive to spontaneous play no longer exist, Bryant added, and he also lamented that when school budgets are cut, among the first to go are physical education programs. A big problem too, he continued, is that the latter-day emphasis on youth sport is somewhat misguided because it tends to take the joy out of exercise.
“It’s all geared to specialization because people think their little boy or girl is going to be the next star by excelling and getting scholarships,” he said. “The kids don’t experience the joy.”
Children in general don’t like fitness regimens, Bryant said, but are attuned to spontaneous play. In that sense, he said, video games could indeed reintroduce the desire to play by providing a springboard.
Derek Ollmer, 13, is spending some of his summer time attending camps at Mackle Park on Marco Island.
An avid sport fan who plays football, basketball and baseball, Ollmer said he likes Wii games such as Shaun White Snowboarding and Madden Football.
Demonstrating a Wii snowboarding session at the park’s Teen Center, Ollmer said it would probably take a couple of hours for any real kind of workout. But, in his 20-minute session leaning and bending his legs on a Wii board, he said he did feel a slight burn in his thighs and calf muscles.
Ollmer said being fit probably enhances the Wii board game experience, but that playing games would never make him fit for his outdoor sports.
Bryant drew attention to a recent American Council on Exercise study examining the fitness benefits of the Wii Fit and a PC-based fitness system geared toward older adults, Dancetown.
After analyzing the six most aerobically challenging activities featured in the Wii Fit — including free run, island run, free step, advanced step, super hula hoop and rhythm boxing — the study revealed “underwhelming” results, with the exercise intensity of most exercises proving to be milder than expected.
Meanwhile, Dancetown proved to be an effective and fun alternative to traditional aerobic exercise for older adults.
Wii Fit indeed burns twice as many calories as a sedentary video game, Bryant noted, and is thus a better option.
When played for 30 minutes, Wii Fit’s free run and island run burned an average of 165 calories — the most out of the six activities tested — and yielded the highest energy expenditures.
But in all instances, researchers found that performing the actual activity — as opposed to the virtual — has a significantly higher caloric expenditure.
In the meantime, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends parents limit the time children watch television or play video games to no more than two hours a day.
Children should be physically active most, if not all, days of the week, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Experts suggest at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily for most children. Walking fast, bicycling, jumping rope, dancing fast, and playing basketball are all beneficial.
The NIH also recommends keeping TVs and computers out of kids’ bedrooms, and not using video games to reward or punish a child.