Keeping Kids Active

Exergames and exercise frequency of children examined

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

The role of exercise in the lives of young people has been a much talked about topic in recent years.

New research about how physical activity can affect the overall health of kids and how it should fit into their day to day is being undertaken, both in terms of children's lives at school and at home.

How Much is Enough?

Just how much time do children need to spend exercising, anyway?  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children and adolescents have at least one hour of physical activity per day.

This time should be mostly aerobic activity (which can vary in intensity from walking to running) but also include muscle and bone strengthening activities (like push-ups or jump roping).

As new research out of Georgia shows, an increase in physical activity can prove beneficial to children's health in more ways than one.

Researching Rates

A study published in the September 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association explored the relationship between exercise and children’s health.

Lead researcher Catherine L. Davis, PhD, from Georgia Health Sciences University and team looked at 222 overweight  public school children in Augusta, Georgia with inactive or sedentary lifestyles.

The children (who were between the ages of 7 and 11 years old) were divided into three groups.

One-third of the children were in a “low-dose” group that exercised 20 minutes a day and one-third were in a “high-dose” group who exercised for 40 minutes a day.

Both of these groups exercised for their prescribed times five days a week for three months, using tag and running games that kept the children moving and occupied for the duration of the exercise.

The remaining third of the children simply kept with their regular levels of (low) physical activity.

Throughout the course of the study, the children were measured for insulin resistance (a factor related to diabetes), levels of aerobic fitness, overall body fat and abdominal body fat.

At the conclusion, the researchers found that the 20 minute group saw health benefits in three months, and that these benefits were even more noticeable in the 40 minute group.

The 20 minute group had, on average, an 18 percent reduction in their insulin resistance levels as compared to the control group, while the 40 minute group had a 22 percent reduction.

Overall fitness levels improved by about the same amounts in the 40 and 20 minute groups, but those in the 40 minute group did lose more of both types of body fat (overall and abdominal).

The authors suggest that this research could be used to support the case for increased physical activity at school.

"If you are able to get kids active for 20 minutes every day in school, whether through physical education or taking a running break during lunch, that can make a real difference,” said Davis, “You can reach a lot of kids by making changes at school.”

Further research will need to be replicated with larger groups of children and in more geographically diverse locations. However, this study does show further cause for both supporting exercise programs in schools and parents encouraging their children’s physical activity levels.

Technology Trends

Video games are more often associated with couch potatoes than fitness buffs, but new advances in technology may be changing this dynamic.

Another new study, this one published online by the journal Pediatrics in October 2012 examined how “exergaming” (playing video games that require physical activity) may be increasing the levels of physical activity among adolescents.

Lead author Jennifer O’Loughlin, PhD, from the University of Montreal in Canada, and team looked at 1,209 students from the Montreal area in the 10th or 11th grade (average age was 16.8 years old).

These teens and their parents were surveyed on a variety of subjects, including questions about lifestyle, demographics, body weight, emotional health and questions related to exergaming.

Results showed that almost a quarter (24 percent) of the teens surveyed reported playing exergames. The average time spent was twice a week for around 50 minutes at a time.

Seventy-three percent of these exergamers reported playing with a “moderate or vigorous intensity.”

“As less than 15% of children and adolescents currently participate regularly in physical activity, we are pleased to report that exergaming can add to regular physical activity to attain physical activity guidelines,” said Dr. O’Loughlin.

According to the authors, “Exergamers were more likely than nonexergamers to be girls, to play nonactive video games, to watch two or more hours of television per day, to be stressed about weight and to be nonsmokers.”

The most popular games reported being played at home were Wii Sports, which 68 percent of exergamers reported playing, Dance Dance Revolution (40 percent), Wii Fit Yoga (34 percent) and Boxing (15 percent).

Unlike the Georgia study, this study is probably more closely tied to young people's home life versus school life, as less than 1 percent of exergamers said they played at school.

However, according to Dr. O’Loughlin, “Factors such as competitions, new consoles, multiplayer modes and contact with other players via the Internet could improve participation. Additionally, the feasibility of exergaming in community centers or at school should be tested.”

More research also needs to be undertaken to understand specific health benefits seen from exergaming, and to explore how well these habits are maintained overtime.

However, as Dr. Davis’ Georgia study showed, the more exercise in kids’ lives, the better.

Exergaming will likely be an aspect of exercise widely explored as experts, parents and teachers attempt to increase the amount of physical activity present in the lives of children.

Review Date: 
October 3, 2012