Meet Jason, chirps James A. Levine, Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in his book Move a Little, Lose a Lot. "Jason was a self-defined 'gamer' who spent the vast majority of his non-work time plopped on the sofa moving little but his thumbs and forefingers as he slayed villains and raced cars. To Jason, life without videogames wasn't much life at all. Imagine his delight when I told him that even a gamer like himself could live a NEAT life. Thanks to Wii, an interactive gaming device that requires players to literally go through the motions of golfing, bowling, swinging and kicking to play the games, Jason could keep his games and get his NEAT, too."
We know what you're thinking. 1) What is NEAT? 2) What a prat. Levine's 'advice', which dismisses an entire creative medium as just a toy, is akin to telling moviegoers that they should stand in the park and watch a Punch & Judy act instead. Go easy on Levine, though. While his self-help bible has doubtless made him very rich, it also makes a lot of sense.
NEAT is short for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, and paints a picture of healthy living that doesn't involve mind-crippling trips to the gym, or making promises to yourself you know you'll never keep. Much of it is obvious: walk to work, do the dishes, and, above all, get off that chair before it KILLS YOU. What's actually inspiring, though, is that it gets you thinking about the simple importance of movement. Being healthy, it reminds us, doesn't have to mean 'getting fit'.
If recent ESA research is true about the average gamer's age being 37, then a lot of us have been gaming for around 30 years of our lives. We're not going to stop now, so the question becomes how we carry on. An obvious place to start would, you'd think, be silencing the hawkers of 'healthy alternatives' like motion games. Last month the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report which concluded that "children who were given active games were not more physically active than those given inactive games."
How could this be, it asks? Is playing them encouraging them to be less active the rest of the time? Or is it, we might suggest, that the vast majority of these 'active' games are too crap for even the 9-12 year olds studied?
Conclusion: motion-control games are not a sustainable form of exercise for anyone with much taste. To dismiss them, though, is to make assumptions about what exercise we need - specifically, how much and how often. New research suggests just 20-second bouts of cycling like a complete madman on an exercise bike, totalling three minutes in a week, is enough to stay healthy.
"We think that too much emphasis is put on duration of exercise," says Professor Jamie Timmons of Birmingham University. "Our work clearly shows a few minutes a week can combat aspects of sedentary lifestyle. HIT [High-Intensity Interval Training] can offer a quick positive addition to the lifestyle of gamers that will definitely do them some good. "
Assuming you aren't snacking as you play, that is. "If gamers tend to eat when they play then combating those extra calories is more difficult with HIT. So not snacking too much, combined with 3-10 mins of HIT per week - I would say that a lot of good can be achieved." It sounds too good to be true, but regardless, the onus of healthy gaming remains on us as individuals. We asked a health professional what you can do to make your play healthier.