If you want your kids to be physically active, make sure they have lots of active toys and games to choose from. That’s the take-home message from recent research published by University at Buffalo experts.
Working with 8-12-year-olds, a team led by James Roemmich of the university’s school of medicine first looked at whether giving children more toy choices increased their physical play. They found that if there was just one toy to play with, boys played actively 1.3 times longer than girls. But given a choice of active toys – mini hockey, bean bag toss plus tic-tac-toe, mini indoor basketball and jump rope – girls increased their physical play nearly 200 percent.
Physical play for boys increased as well, but by just 42 percent, possibly because girls enjoy the mental challenge of evaluating the toys and choosing which to play with more than boys do. Having a choice of toys increased exercise intensity for both groups.
Next, the researchers looked at whether the exergames motivated kids to increase play time. They did, but Roemmich points out that while kids played Wii basketball twice as long as actual basketball, they expend only half the energy on the Wii.
He advises parents to find three to five active games and toys their children enjoy, and make them easily accessible at home. Exergames are best when they replace watching TV or playing other types of video games, rather than taking the place of other physical activities. Away from home, parents should look for a variety of activities – dance, zoomba, sports or martial arts – and find fitness or youth centers that promote choice by including a variety of programming with membership, rather than charging extra.
His studies were funded by the National Institutes of Health. The first was published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports, and the second in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.