Videogames that Will Help Children Become Happy, Healthy, and Strong

As a pediatric physical therapist, I spend a quite a few hours of my day talking to children. Not a week goes by without one of my clients ecstatically describing a video game awaiting him at home.  I know there is quite a bit of publicity out there about how video games cannot substitute for the authentic experience of playing outdoors. I wholeheartedly agree with the research that states today’s children need less sedentary video games and more concrete mental stimulation.

However, our world and our technologies have been changing. The way children experience their world today isgreat videogames for fitness not the same way we experienced it as children 30 years ago.  Video games and virtual stimulation systems have become a major part of most rehabilitation and therapy programs across the country, especially those targeted to children.  In my own years as a physical therapist, I’ve witnessed children with complex pain syndromes recover their bike riding ability, paraplegics regain their motor control, and patients with traumatic brain injuries improve their sense of balance, all through the help of video games. Physical therapists everywhere will agree that the right game can make a session more fun, while still achieving age-appropriate goals.

Today’s video games, with motion-sensitive controllers and antennae, are a fun adjunct to any fitness program.
Most of the active video games available today and used in rehabilitation facilities require physical movement and spatial awareness to move the characters on the screen. They can be child-friendly and easy to learn for certain patients, because they eliminate the weight of holding sports equipment and focus more on the motion used by large muscle groups.  For those with physical limitations, as well as those typically-developing children who are just snowed-in on a cold day, certain active video games provide the right amount of mental and physical stimulation to ensure growth or recovery.  A well-designed game and a well-researched purchase will be sure to brighten up your young one’s bleak winter day. Most fitness-inspired and total-body-engaging games are tailored toward all age groups, which mean more quality and healthy family time together.  Below I’ve listed a few popular active video games, which are available for multiple game consoles.

Fitness Inspired Videogames for All Ages:

Available on all three consoles (Wii, Xbox, Playstation):

  • Dance Dance Revolution –This game has been out for quite some time and it has the reputation of getting even the laziest off the couch. Each dance can be customized to your specific coordination/fitness level.  The original game comes with a dance mat that has to be jumped on in various patterns. It allows for multiple players and the different dance levels will provide challenges for even the most agile dancers.
  • Just Dance – Featuring many popular songs from the last few decades, you and your family can burn calories, dance, and sing along, with rhythmic choreographed moves that incorporate all the big muscle groups.
  • Nickelodeon Dance – Using songs from beloved Nickelodeon shows, this game is toddler friendly and will get little feet moving, with energetic characters to dance along with.

Available for Wii:

  • Wii Fit (Wii Fit Plus with Balance Board) –The balance board is unique to the Wii system, and like its name suggests, it encourages balance and body awareness training for a variety of age and skill levels. The sensors in the board help users customize their workouts based on their goals and abilities. Virtual activities include yoga, strength training, skateboarding, hula-hoop, and cycling. The Fit system also keeps track of your BMI, weight, minutes exercised, and calories burned.
  • Wii Sports-These games can be played with a motion-sensitive controller in the comfort of your own living room with a realistic feel and look: tennis, baseball, golf, bowling, and boxing.
  • Nickelodeon Fit – This is a very child-friendly game, including familiar Nick Jr. characters that children can run with, bike with, or jump with. Activities focus on building coordination, endurance, balance, and strength.
  • Walk it Out – Step into a virtual world with fitness-focused games that keep you walking to the beat of music. Kids can monitor their calories burnt and distances travelled. Walking is an underrated method of exercises. I have quite a few young clients who are very motivated by walking as a part of their weight-management program and this game definitely fits their needs. The fun components of unlocking points while walking around a virtual island serve as motivation and keep them engaged.
  • Exerbeat –With virtual instructors, users wave their remotes and bodies to the beat during the 155 exercises provided in this game. From yoga, karate, boxing, to dance, the exercises are high-energy and fun. Yet, the game also comes with stretching exercises to protect your joints and muscles.

Exclusively for Xbox 360:

  • Body and Brain Connection –This game integrates our cognitive and physical abilities by using gestures and movements to solve puzzles on the screen. It is an excellent way to exercise our mind and our bodies.
  • Your Shape Fitness Evolved – This contains over 90 hours of fitness activities from boot camp, to boxing, to dance. You can design a workout based on your fitness level and goals. There are great exercises targeting specific muscle groups. Even floor exercises can be tracked.
    Kinect Sports Bundle – Choose from games such as bowling, volleyball, soccer, running, and boxing. In addition to sports, the bundle of games comes with stimulating visuals that encourage an active adventure through exotic locations and incorporate skills such as jumping, kicking, and obstacle negotiation.
    Dance Central–This is a full-immersion video game that tracks users’ total-body movements and teach authentic dance choreography step-by-step.  Players can move to the beat with popular artists in multiple genres, with original moves from the music videos. The total-body sensors monitor progress and keep users off the couch and on the dance floor.

There is a definite social component to the numerous video games mentioned above. As with any new fitness program: have a blast, stay safe, and include your family and friends to remain motivated through these cold winter months. Build in daily video game sessions like exercise sessions. They will also create fun bonding experiences with your children when you are limited to your home. With all the choices in video games and platforms available, there really is something for everyone.

Tell us your favorite videogame for fitness in the comments below!

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