Offering a mix of physical activity and yoga, the latest innovation in video games as fitness-focused offerings has hit the US. In fact, the Wii Fit is already changing the way some people exercise, and other fitness-oriented game systems are on the way to the market. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA), the activities enabled by these new gaming systems are geared toward strength training, balance and aerobics, and they show potential for strengthening, rehabilitation and increased motivation to exercise.


 


It is always better to participate in physical activity and fitness activities to build bone and muscle, said Sue Stanley-Green, MS, ATC, professor of athletic training, Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. Video games can have a role in at least getting you up and moving. We hope that those who begin with a little activity, using gaming systems that require bodily movement and effort, will start to feel better and want to exercise more in the real world, too.


 


Core strength is a fitness term that refers to abdominal and back muscles and their ability to support the spine and keep the body stable and balanced; its also one of the main areas of focus for fitness gaming. Weak core muscles contribute to a variety of injuries among people of all ages from professional athletes to couch-potato kids, sedentary adults and workers who exert themselves physically.


 


NATA offers the following tips to ensure optimal results and to ensure safe use when playing fitness-centered video games for general health, core strengthening and conditioning as well as for rehabilitation after injury. In all cases, follow manufacturers instructions to ensure proper form and use.


 


·         Core strengthening Fitness video games can have great core strengthening potential, which is one of the main objectives for upper- and lower-body rehabilitation programs, especially for posture problems and back pain.


·         Upper-body rehabilitation Functional upper-body movement patterns can be reinforced with video games that mimic certain real-world activities (e.g. tennis games can help safely exercise the rotator cuff).


·         Lower-body rehabilitation The ability to perform weight-shifting activities on certain systems can help patients during the first days of weight bearing after an injury or surgery.


·         Increased range of motion Some new game controllers enable motions that require little or no resistance, so people can expand their ranges of motion while performing certain activities that work within their allowable range limits.


·         Entertainment value One of the most difficult aspects of rehabilitation is to keep patients coming back on a regular basis to perform tedious, repetitive exercises; the entertainment value inherent in video games can help solve this problem.


·         Improved motivation By playing against an opponent or by trying to beat a previous score, video gamers may be motivated to try harder and do better each day.


·         Getting kids moving Video games geared toward strength training, balance and aerobics can be helpful in getting people moving rather than just sitting stationary and working their thumbs on the game controller.


·         Bringing families together One of the benefits of fitness-focused gaming is that parents and kids can play together, improving family fitness and overall health in the bargain.


 


As with any activity, too much of repetition of one type of movement may not be a good thing, Stanley-Green said. There are some documented cases of video-game shoulder and video-game elbow, so using the proper form and technique should be stressed. Of course, ideally use of the gaming consoles should be alternated with other physical activities. And, if pain persists, consult your physician.


 


Athletic trainers are unique health care professionals who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and illnesses. The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents and supports 30,000 members of the athletic training profession. NATA advocates for equal access to athletic trainers for patients and clients of all ages and supports H.R. 1846. Only 42% of high schools have access to athletic trainers. NATA members adhere to a code of ethics. Visit www.nata.org for more information.

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