For a long time now, scientists have warned parents about letting their kids play video games during their free time when they could spend it more productively by being active at the playground. Times are changing, though. We’re no longer limited to controlling video games through a controller. Just about every console manufacturer has created a motion sensor, making their games all the more immersive. Kids can now jump and swing their way to success. And now, a new study suggests all that movement may be just as effective as playing outdoors.

The study comes from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where researchers were interested in comparing the effects of playing motion-based video games to so-called “unstructured outdoor play” — playing in a playground, for example — among children aged 5 to 8. “Our study shows video games [that] wholly engage a child’s body can be a source of physical activity,” said Hollie Raynor, director of the university’s Healthy Eating and Activity Laboratory. “Previous studies investigating active video games had not investigated the energy expenditure of these games as compared to unstructured outdoor play.”

The researchers hooked up 16 normal-weight children to accelerometers on their hips and both wrists, and gave them three weeks to do both activities twice for 15 minutes. Outdoor play took place in a fully-equipped playground with two grassy areas, a paved area, a climbing tree, hula hoops, and various balls. The kids could engage in whichever activities they wanted. When they went inside to play video games, they were given an Xbox 360 Kinect with the game “Kinect Adventures: River Rush.” The game requires jumping and side-stepping to maneuver an inflatable raft through river courses.

The researchers measured levels of physical activity with the Children’s Activity Rating Scale, and found greater measures of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity with the video game than outdoor play, but only with regard to the hip accelerometers. There was no greater level of activity in the wrist accelerometers, which were used to measure upper-body activity.

Despite using (CARS) and accelerometers to reach accurate measures of physical activity and subsequent energy expenditure, the study was still too small to definitively say motion-based video games are just as good as outdoor play. Nevertheless, they can be used to supplement it. “We’re not saying video games should replace outdoor play, but there are better choices people can make when choosing the types of video games for their children,” Raynor said.

According to national physical activity guidelines, children and adolescents should be getting 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day, in addition to muscle strengthening activities at least three days a week. While video games may supplement this, there really isn’t a better alternative to getting outdoors and playing with friends or family.

Source: MacArthur B, Coe D, Sweet A, Raynor H. Active Videogaming Compared to Unstructured, Outdoor Play in Young Children: Percent Time in Moderate- to Vigorous-Intensity Physical Activity and Estimated Energy Expenditure. Games for Health Journal. 2015.