Heart Disease

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Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Video Games and Weight Gain: Truth or Fantasy?

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A girl playing video games in the dark.
It’s no mystery that a sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to obesity. Obesity, in turn, plays an important role in the development of heart disease and many other chronic conditions. In my February column for Healthline.com, I told you about an Australian study which found that people who watched four hours or more of television daily had a substantially higher risk for heart disease and death when compared to those who spent little or no time in front of the tube. Other studies have linked heart disease to total screen time, which includes not only television, but also time spent sitting in front of the computer and playing video games. Now a Canadian study reported by Dr. Jean-Phillipe Chaput and associates gives us some insight into the effects that video games can have on our appetites and food choices.

The study involved 22 healthy adolescent males, none of whom were overweight. Each one participated in a one hour video game on one day, and a one hour rest period on another day. After each session, they were given free access to an all you can eat lunch. The researchers found that while playing the video game burned just a measly 21 extra calories, lunchtime calorie intake was 80 calories higher after playing videos than on the resting day. The munchies didn’t stop there. By the end of the day, the gamers had taken in a whopping extra 163 calories. To put that into context, someone who plays a video game every day could be on target to gain an extra 17 pounds in one year, without ever realizing that he or she was overeating.

How can we explain this? While the research doesn’t specifically answer that question, there is clearly something about playing a video game— in essence living a virtual life—that tricks us into believing that we are burning more energy. This in turn means that we feel the need to take in more calories to keep our energy levels in balance.

Not all video games are alike. Last year, the American Heart Association teamed up with the Nintendo Corporation to promote its Wii Fit products as an innovative way to lose weight and have fun. Programs include yoga, dance, and sports such as golf and tennis. Other companies are following suit, developing physically interactive games and programs that promise to help jump start your heart.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health , Risk Factors for Heart Disease , Weight and Heart Health

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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