Why not the action video game Super Street Fighter IV? Just kidding. But Wii Fit might be worth considering. An interesting piece on the New York Times’ Health page “Well” blog 
suggests that gaming companies, especially those promoting fitness-enhancing “exergames” may be targeting the wrong audience.

When it comes to physical fitness for children and young adults, researchers are finding that exercise-based video games are not living up to their hoped-for potential.

In theory, active games should come close to replicating the energy demands and physiological benefits of playing the actual sports they imitate. But as most of us might guess, they don’t. Studies consistently have found that active video games, although they require more energy than simply watching television or playing passive video games, are not nearly as physically demanding as real sports and physical activities.

One person who commented on the above article questioned whether or not the studies have included some of the newer high-intensity dance programs, specifically Wii’s “Just Dance” which apparently can deliver a workout similar to aerobics.

Another problem seems to be maintaining young people’s interest in exergames:

Another issue with exergames is that they do not contain images of viscera, explosions, chase scenes or aliens. Parents might applaud that. But many gamers do not. Several recent studies have found that young people often grow bored with exergaming. Three months into a recent six-month study of the effects of a dance game, for instance, only 2 of the 21 children participating were still using the game at least twice a week.

Those are dismal statistics, but I still congratulate those two children. They have more staying power than the average adult who buys exercise equipment and abandons it after a week or two.

The long and short of it should come as no surprise: for optimum results where physical fitness for youth is concerned, the best thing is to mix it up, keep it fresh, and rather than rely on technology, just go outside and play. Parental/family involvement in the process is a must. Parents who make fitness important can more easily transmit that value to their children.

However, partaking in rigorous sports or even a simple trip to the beach or hockey rink is simply not an option for many seniors, especially those with mobility challenges, which is why exergaming could be very beneficial to this age group.

The number of research studies examining elderly exergame users remains small (as does the number of elderly exergamers). But the available results are provocative. A representative case study published last year found that an 89-year-old woman with a balance disorder and a history of falls significantly improved her scores on a series of balance tests after six sessions of Wii Bowling, an encouraging outcome given that, as the study authors point out, falls remain the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the elderly.

A broader study presented last month at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego produced similar results. […]

So perhaps we should consider redirecting those newly purchased Wii Fit or Kinect systems? Maybe we should be giving them to our parents, and having our children visit to set them up and stay to bowl or box with their grandparents.

Sounds like a great idea. Alternatively, in the spirit of the season, donate a fitness gaming system to a seniors’ care home near you.

Mariette Ulrich is a homemaker and freelance writer. She lives in western Canada with her husband and six of their seven children. Mariette holds an Honours B.A. in English Literature...