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Want your kid to be more active? Take a pass on video 'exergames'

Kids who play active video games are no more active than kids who do not. kids who played Dylan Burger, 8, (L) dances to a video game at the Boys & Girls Club in Santa Monica, California December 16, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY)

Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS

It looks like Dance, Dance Revolution really isn't all that revolutionary – not from a fitness perspective. Nor, for that matter, are the other video games in the genre sold on the promise of getting young people moving. If you're thinking of buying your kids so-called "exergames" in the belief those games are viable substitute for real physical activity, better scratch them off your holiday shopping list, Canadian researchers say.

Following "the most comprehensive, systematic review done on the topic to date," researchers have concluded that kids who play active video games are no more active than kids who do not, says Dr. Mark Tremblay, chief scientific officer for Active Healthy Kids Canada, which conducted the review.

It is certainly better for children to be up and moving around as they play these video games than it would be for them to spend that time sitting on the couch. But when you look at their activity levels throughout the entire day, research reveals that the time spent exergaming doesn't put kids any further ahead of their non-gaming peers when it comes to time spent being active.

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"There must be compensation happening," Tremblay says. That is, it's possible that kids are opting to play exergames at the expense of joining the ball hockey game out on the street or running around at the park.

"That's not a good thing," Tremblay says. "If we're replacing active outdoor play … with this more artificial thing and the net outcome is equal, we'd rather have the former. We'd rather have the traditional [play], outside, with sunlight, fresh air, playing with friends, interacting with nature, away from the pantry."

Children who spend more time engaging in traditional, active, outdoor play are "more creative, they're more innovative, they develop problem-solving skills, higher order thinking skills and so on," Tremblay said.

He also pointed out that exergames will not get kids' hearts pumping enough to contribute to the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity daily activity.

"The level of intensity that you're going to get from them is not going to improve your fitness," Tremblay says.

It was no coincidence that Active Healthy Kids Canada and its strategic partners, the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute and ParticipACTION released their findings on Cyber Monday, when many Canadians are expected to take advantage of online deals to purchase presents for the holidays.

Rather than buying a video game, it would be better to get your kid a hockey stick, soccer ball or anything else that will get them to play outside.

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"We're trying to tug on the nostalgia of bringing back play and the authenticity of that at this time of the year when we're enticed to buy more and newer gadgets that for the most part do not result in resolving the activity crisis but rather contributing to it," Tremblay says.

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