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These days, many Canadians spend a lot of time using their computers, TVs and cell phones. A December 2007 Angus Reid survey indicates that on average Canadians of all ages watch TV for eight to 14 hours a day. Also, the Mayo Clinic reports that children’s average “screen time” in 2007 was eight hours a day.

Screen time, which causes us to be inactive for hours on end, is one of the reasons for ever-increasing obesity rates, even among very young children. Fortunately there are a number of ways to use technology to promote active living.

Active video games
Active video games for the Wii and games like Dance Dance Revolution and EyeToy Kinetic are getting lots of attention. These games are popular with both adults and kids because:

  • They are fun and challenging, and they get you moving.
  • You can play them with other people or alone.
  • They can encourage socializing and turn-taking.
  • They can be co-operative, or you can compete with another person or a computer opponent.
  • Some games allow people of different ages and skill levels to play together.

People have found a variety of ways to use active video games. For example:

  • Some kids are challenging their parents to a game of boxing or baseball.
  • Families are playing virtual games of doubles tennis in their living rooms.
  • Some schools are using Dance Dance Revolution in their physical education program, or during recess and lunch breaks. They may even hold dancing competitions with other schools.
  • Some hospital staff are using active video games in their work with people recovering from accidents, surgery and strokes. For example, an Edmonton hospital has incorporated a virtual 10-pin bowling game into its medical rehabilitation program.

Techno helpers
Active technology doesn’t have to be all about games, though. You can use programs for your personal computer or a hand-held device like the Blackberry to remind you (and others) to be active. These “techno helpers” can also give you exercises to do and help track your daily activity levels. All you need is software (which might come with your computer) and an Internet connection.

Some people use their day-timer to remind them to get up and be active. Some use e-mails or text messages to help them meet friends at exercise classes, the neighbourhood park or the front door of their office building.

The Alberta Centre for Active Living has two popular exercise videos on its Physical Activity at Work website. These videos are simple to use and are designed to help you avoid spending too much time sitting and typing, whether you are at work or at home. If you’ve never done yoga, using these videos can give you a chance to try it out with a qualified instructor.

Some offices have workstations featuring a treadmill with a computer and telephone mounted in front. Workers can carry out many of their daily tasks while walking on the treadmill. This solution is really helpful for those who can’t find time for activity after work or on weekends.

A word of caution
Active video games are fun, and they do get you moving. But they are simply more active than traditional video games. They are no substitute for other types of physical activity.

Active video games can help adults achieve the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity per day (90 minutes are recommended for children and youth). As well, they can keep you active when the weather or other factors make it difficult to be outside.

Active video games might also inspire you to pursue related “non-screen” activities such as dancing, playing an instrument (guitar, drumming), shadow boxing, yoga or tai chi and sports such as bowling, baseball, boxing, tennis and golf. Once you know you like it, why not try it for real?

The bottom line: even if you are using active video games and other technical aids to become more active, you also need to participate in other activities and exercises that improve your flexibility, strength and endurance. Remember, too, that social contact is one of the great side benefits of playing sports or walking with friends or taking dance lessons.

Use technology as a tool for activity
It is important to keep up with the ongoing and rapid changes in technology in order to use these tools to the greatest advantage. Computers and TV tempt us to sit too much. But if they are used wisely, even they can help us to get moving.

Learn more
Active Video Games: A Good Way to Exercise?
A WellSpring article discusssing current research.

Alberta Centre for Active Living - Stretching at your desk

Alberta Centre for Active Living - Yoga at your desk
Stretching and yoga videos for the workplace.

Surprise! Video games can actually get us moving.
An information page from the Alberta Centre for Active Living

Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Children and Youth
These are the first, systematic evidence-based sedentary behaviour guidelines in the world.

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