Wii boosts exercise out in the real world

People who play on games consoles like the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Xbox-Kinect are more likely to want to take more exercise, and just watching others play can encourage you to take exercise too.

That is the conclusion of research by health psychologist Dr Angel Chater conducted while at the University of Bedfordshire. She is presenting it today at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology in Liverpool.

With her colleague Briony Marsden, Dr Chater set out to investigate whether it was possible to predict people’s physical activity intentions and whether these intentions are influenced by their mood and past behaviour. The researchers also aimed to determine whether playing or observing interactive games like the Wii and Kinect could improve people’s mood and make it more likely that they will plan to take exercise in the future.

The researchers surveyed 120 people, measuring their mood and beliefs about physical activity (for example, whether they felt it was beneficial to their health and whether they believed they had the personal control to engage in it despite any barriers they may have). They were then asked to either play or observe the Wii or Kinect, before their mood and beliefs were measured again.

Results showed that playing on the consoles increased positive mood, and beliefs in how much control they had in doing more exercise.  Game play also increased their intention to take future  exercise compared to what it was before gaming. The same was true, though to a lesser extent, of people who had merely watched others playing. However, the type of game and console played didn’t seem to matter, they both had a positive effect on the psychological factors that are known to influence physical activity and mood.

Dr Chater says: “We know that if a person has a positive attitude towards physical activity and believes they can do it, they will be more motivated to actually perform the behaviour, so we were interested in seeing if playing on these consoles can increase these psychological factors. Our results suggest they do.

So not only can playing on these consoles be good exercise in itself, the gaming experience can make people more likely to want to do something active like go for a walk or play conventional sport. This is a small pilot study, but we would like to test these effects further in schools and homes for the elderly, in populations where we know activity levels can be improved, to see whether using interactive games consoles like the Wii and Kinect can increase motivation and actual physical activity, which will in turn improve population health.”