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A new study shows that spending more than two hours a day engaged gaming or using computers for other purposes is only associated with less exercise in gamers and TV-watchers who live in countries in which kids already engage in relatively high levels of physical activity.

The results show that in North America and Nordic countries, which (perhaps surprisingly) are home to relatively active youth, gaming or watching television for more than two hours a day is associated with a half day reduction in the number of days per week spent engaged in the recommended amount of exercise. Less-strong correlations were found in the British Isles, Central Europe and the Baltic countries.

Impressively, using computers for something other than gaming correlated with more physical activity in kids, leading the researchers to conclude that:

“The overall positive associations between non-gaming computer use and physical activity also suggests that using the computer for homework and other such purposes is not likely to displace time for physical activity. Consequently, the current results do not support the inclusion of this type of behavior in national recommendations [that children spend less time in front of screens].”

The work helps explain a paradox in the role of technology in health outcomes that is rarely mentioned by those who argue that kids should spend less time in sedentary activities because they trade off with exercise: large scale meta-analyses that group many countries and types of engagement with technology together have, until now, failed to prove that this tradeoff exists.

The results lead the researchers to conclude that “…physical inactivity is not a consequence of adolescents spending too much time in screen-based sedentary behaviors, but rather that inactive adolescents have more time spend [sic] in different sedentary pursuits.”

They also argue that gender-based differences in the tradeoff of certain activities with physical activity may simply be a matter of preference:

“The stronger negative association between physical activity and TV for girls vs. gaming for boys may thus simply reflect that inactive girls tend to watch more TV while inactive boys tend to spend more time playing computer games.”

Image of Sergei Brin looking sporty in his ‘barefoot’ running shoes cc Steve Jurvetson

Follow Christopher Mims on Twitter, or contact him via email.

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