Do Video Games Cause Poor Fitness In Kids?

Many parents are worried about the effect of video games on their child’s fitness and exercise habits. And understandably so- regular video game players are frequently depicted as being in terrible physical condition. Either they are shown as being significantly overweight and doughy, or they are shown as being rail thing and very frail. These aren’t exactly two images of the ideal person that every parent wants their child to become.

But are these stereotypes true, and if so is there anything you can do to allow your child to both enjoy video games and develop a healthy level of physical activity?

Do Video Games Cause Poor Physical Condition in Children?

There isn’t anything inherent in video games that cause poor physical conditioning in children. There is nothing in the act of playing a game on their computer or TV screen that will cause them to physically decline. If they play too close to the screen they can damage their eyes, this is true, but there’s nothing intrinsic about playing a moderate amount of video games that you should worry about.

The problem comes when your child does NOTHING but plays video games. While games don’t do anything to make your child weaker, they don’t do anything to encourage their physical development. If your child spends all of their free time sitting down, barely moving, then naturally they won’t increase their fitness level. But that’s true whether they are playing video games, writing, reading, drawing, watching TV, browsing the web, or doing anything sedentary for most of their free time.

While excessive video game use can cause poor physical condition in children, it doesn’t do any more harm than any other motionless activity.

Do Fitness Video Games Work?

That depends what you mean by “work.” Is an hour of playing a ‘running’ game in Wii Fit going to be as beneficial as an hour of actual running outdoors or on a treadmill providing resistance? No. Is that running game going to be more physically beneficial to your child than an hour of playing Halo? Absolutely.

Motion based video games may not provide the same level of physical challenge that traditional forms of exercise will provide, but they at least get your child off of the coach and moving, using a system of rewards that avid video game players already find compelling. These games can also help make your child more aware of and interested in using their body in fun and challenging ways, which can translate into an increased interest in other forms of fitness and exercise that have nothing to do with their video games.

So while fitness video games are far from ideal, they are better than nothing and they can be an effective catalyst for traditional exercise.

How Can I Encourage My Child to Get More Exercise?

If your child is spending all of their time playing video games and you want them to take a greater interest in fitness and exercise than you need to limit the amount of time they are allowed to spend playing video games. Limiting the amount of time that they spend playing video games isn’t enough though, as this rule will simply create a void that your child will need to fill. Left to their own devices, they are likely to fill it with another low-impact sedentary environment, and they might just go to their friend’s house and play video games there.

In addition to limiting your child’s allowed amount of time playing video game you will need to create some sort of exercise activity that the two of you can do together to fill the time. This can be anything from encouraging them to sign up for a soccer team to actively going out on a run with them. Just remember that subtraction isn’t enough, you need to actually add in physical activity to improve your child’s fitness level.

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