Jennifer Gerson, Postmedia News Reports
CALGARY — With the flashing lights, blaring music and banks of high definition television screens, kids might think they were wandering into an arcade.
Actually, it’s gym class.
Grade 4 students at the Foundations for the Future Academy in Calgary use video games to stay in shape.
While video games have long been considered the foe of gym teachers, new research released Tuesday by the University of Calgary suggests that games may be as capable of keeping kids fit as traditional physical education classes.
The University of Calgary study tested the effects of a number of popular video games that incorporate jumping and balancing, such as dance games.
After two years testing the games on Calgary elementary school students, researchers found that active video games improved balance by up to 30 per cent, while conventional physical education that included traditional games, such as badminton, had a negligible effect.
The results, released Tuesday, were on par with a six-week phys-ed program that focused solely on improving agility and balance using dance, gymnastics and obstacle courses.
“We don’t believe what we’re doing is trying to encourage kids to play video games,” said researcher Larry Katz. “We think there is an obesity problem because of sedentary behaviour and what we’re hoping to do is to get kids who are involved with sedentary behaviour to be non-sedentary, to be active.”
Often children fail to become physically active because they don’t develop balance and agility, he said.
The games allow phys-ed teachers to better customize programs that can help students improve their physical co-ordination. In addition, the students were more likely to enjoy the digital exercise games than a traditional gym class.
Jumping up to slam the squares of a light wall that would look familiar to former patrons of 1970s-era disco clubs, nine-year-old Adelle Zielke and her classmate Chloe Sorensen-Clark gave the program a positive verdict.
“It’s mesmerizing,” they said, almost in tandem.
“It’s very active. You have to jump up and there are lots of different ways to do it. You can go backwards or sideways,” Zielke said. “It livens up your life. It’s (better) because it’s very bright and colourful. This is shiny.”
The light wall tests and improves reaction time, while other games focus on balance and co-ordination.
Active video games have become more popular since the introduction of the Nintendo Wii’s motion controller. Both Sony’s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 recently have released new hardware additions that allow players to use motion control.
Although researchers have studied the effects of active games on energy expenditure, Katz and his colleague believe this is the first study to look into the effects on balance and agility.
Katz, an expert in multimedia and sports technology, said he could envision more technologically integrated schools — with the scores earned in gym class, for example, applied in mathematics and science.
“It’s integrating their data so the data is meaningful and relevant for them,” he said. “It becomes math about me, which is a lot more fun than how much is four apples plus two apples.”
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