Myths of exergaming
Doctor of Sports Science Arto Pesola and teacher Jukka Sinnemäki discuss the topic of exergaming. Are myths true or false? Reader the article or watch the interview and decide for yourself.
Myth: Children exercise enough by themselves.
Finnish children’ and youth’s overall cardiovascular endurance is weakening at a considerable rate. Schools, clubs and unions are doing a lot of work to help children a healthy lifestyle. Nevertheless, the polarization of exercise is visible in everyday life: there are children and youth who exercise beyond the recommendations, and those who have no interest in exercise at all.
Finnish children still spend a lot of time seated. As they grow older the amount of time spent seated increases every year, moving from childhood to adolescence. WHO published new physical activity recommendations in December 2020. Schoolchildren are recommended to get an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. This doesn’t happen naturally anymore, rather it must be a conscious effort. A lot of children and youth are being driven to school and their hobbies, outdoor play time and exercise in general during their free time has decreased. While learning remotely, everyday exercise can be easily be forgotten, and socializing can be done remotely as well.
We have a plenty of knowledge and a lot of expertise, but we still need better methods for putting theory into practice. An hour of moderate to vigorous exercise daily requires systematic planning and action, like including an hour of exercise in the school schedule.
Myth: Exergaming is not real exercise
Jyväskylä’s Christian school has iWall and runBEAT, which are available for everyone, both students and staff. The overall physical strain of children playing a variety of iWall games has been subject of study. The physical strain was moderate, meaning that it is sufficient to meet the daily activity recommendations. There are many ways to get students to exercise, but exergaming is an exceptional tool for organizing versatile exercise. Playing exergames can help improve muscle fitness, respiratory- and circulatory system, body control and balance.
From a teacher or parent's perspective it can be challenging to successfully organize 60 minutes of moderate exercise for each child daily. However, with exergames it is easy to get brief but very effective exercise several times a day. The previous recommendations from WHO stated that in order to be effective, exercise would have to be at least 10 minutes in length. This recommendation has been revised and there are now no specific time requirements. Doing plenty of brief exercises throughout the day adds up in the long run and is certainly better than no exercise at all. WHO now recommends vigorous and fast-paced exercise for children and not only adults. A minute or two of playing, raising your heart rate and breaking a sweat is enough to improve your physical health.
Often exercise and gaming are seen as opposites, one excluding the other. According to WHO not all screen time has a negative impact. Exergaming is a new and engaging way of exercising, incorporating the fun and the competition of gaming.
The main benefit of exergaming is that it’s fun. From there, other benefits follow.
Myth: Exergames only motivate hyperactive boys
Many Finnish schools ranging from elementary to universities have already decided to purchase digital exergames to their premises.
According to research, physical activity among girls decreases more as they grow older, than with boys. It is therefore especially important to focus on girls’ physical activity. One study found that when girls were playing iWall their heart rate was on average 10 beats per minute higher than boys were playing, meaning that they were getting an even more effective exercise.
In terms of interest towards exergaming, there appear to be no differences between girls and boys. They are equally enthusiastic, and the best part is that they’re playing together. In addition to hyperactive and sporty children, the more shy and timid children also seem to enjoy playing as well. In spite of their normal activity levels and different personalities, they are exergaming together.
Living a active lifestyle doesn’t happen by force. Students are often surprised to find that exercise can actually be fun! Even students who are not used to running and being out of breath enjoy running on runBEAT and lay on the floor smiling and laughing after the exercising.
Myth: Fitness equipment does not belong in schools and are too expensive
Exergames that are located within public premises are expensive because they must be safe, easy to use and not easily damaged. In addition, they must provide health benefits, and most importantly be motivating and up to date.
In Jyväskylä, there have only been positive issues caused by exergaming. Because everyone wanted to play and it got too crowded, the school had to create a reservation calendar. The teacher can book a time for a during or after school hours, evening and weekend included. The whole family can enjoy their exercise!
Every child and youth needs positive experiences daily, and exergames seem to be able to give them these experiences. Teachers have noticed that exergames have a significant connection to learning, coping in school, control of every day life and even improving self-esteem. Exergames have a direct effect on atmosphere, class spirit and sense of belonging. At the beginning of the lesson, you can notice the difference if students have just been exergaming. Exergaming places the students on the same level and even students who wouldn’t shine in traditional sports, can shine here.
An important factor is the fast pace of playing. No-one is going to go 10 minutes at full speed, instead the games take from half a minute to few minutes. This means that the students can get effective exercise during recess. As some students play, others watch and cheer on. This plays an important role as well. Everyone gets to be a star on their turn.
Arto Pesola, Doctor of Sports, is very positive about exergaming's double benefits: exergaming has a positive impact on learning, mental and physical well-being at the same time. And that’s exactly what exergaming is all about.
Helsingin Sanomat, 9.12.2020. Koululaisten kestävyyskunto heikkenee.
Liikanen, V. & Pesola, A, 2018. Physical fun : Exercise, social relations and learning in SuperPark. https://www.theseus.fi/handle/10024/142903
Opetushallitus, 2020. Move!-mittaukset 2020 : lasten ja nuorten kestävyyskunto heikentyy, muu fyysinen toimintakyky ennallaan.