MET:Input Devices and Physical Activity

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This page first authored by Lena Ling and Rebecca Ticknor (March 2010)


In January 2010, Statistics Canada released the results of the Canadian Heath Measures Survey, outlining the fitness levels of Canadians over a two year period. The survey reported that based on BMI (body mass index):

  • Teens aged 15 to 19 classified as either overweight or obese rose from 14% to 31% in boys and 14% to 25% in girls.
  • 37% of adults were overweight, and 24% obese.

Similar results have been reported across the globe, with 68% of adults and 12-17% of children and adolescents in the United States, and 61.4% of adults and 27.3% of children in England being overweight or obese (Weight-control Information Network, 2010; Department of Health, 2009).

Given the health issues and risks associated with being overweight or obese (i.e. diabetes, heart disease, stroke,cancer), a wide range of resources and initiatives have been developed with the goal of encouraging and increasing the number of children and adults participating in physical activity. Input devices such as fitness accessories, cellular phones (mobile phones) and video game consoles, for example, are a means of reaching these goals.

Input Devices

Input Device Description Image
Accelerometers Accelerometers are electromechanical devices that measure acceleration forces. They allow input devices to determine the way the device is moving with respect to its acceleration. They can be found in many input devices such as the Wiimote and the iPhone.
Cycling Computers (Cyclocomputer) Cycling computers allow cyclists to track important workout information such as elapsed time, trip distance, total distance, average speed, maximum speed, and cadence. The computers consist of an LCD screen, a ring with small magnets that is placed over the front wheel of the bicycle, and a magnetic sensor that is attached to the fork of the bicycle. Once the wheel circumference is input into the computer, the computer calculates the output each time the ring of magnets passes the magnetic sensor.
A Cycling Computer
Dance Dance Revolution Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) is a video game created by Konami which can be used with various game consoles such as the Wii, Playstation and XBox. A sensor pad is danced upon while users follow on-screen visual cues to follow the beat of the music. The object of the game is to match your movements with the arrow cues on the screen.
Heart Rate Monitors Heart rate monitors allow individuals to monitor their intensity and the number of calories they are burning during exercise.
Nike iPod Sensor Kit (Nike+iPod) The Nike iPod sensor kit includes a sensor that is placed in a built-in pocket under the insole of a Nike+ shoe. A receiver is attached to an iPod nano or in the case of the iPod touch and iPhone 3GS, the receiver is not necessary since the support is built-into the devices. The device provides workout-based voice feedback and allows the user to customize his/her workout based on time, distance or calorie goals. While exercising, your iPod or iPhone gives feedback regarding time, distance, pace and calories burned. At the conclusion of a workout, workout data can automatically be uploaded to a computer.
Pedometers Pedometers are used to measure the number of steps one takes. Attached to a belt or waistband, it records the number of steps taken each time one's hips moves up and down.
Wii Console, Wiimote & Nunchuk First introduced in late 2006 by Nintendo, the Wii allowed its users to be physically active during its games thanks to its revolutionary controller, the "Wiimote." The Wiimote consists of an accelerometer which detects the 3-D movements of the user. Other components of the device include a basic memory chip, which stores data about the game in use; an audio amplifier; a data converter which converts the analog signals from the accelerometer into digital data and sends them to the Bluetooth chip (which provides a wireless link to the console); a rumble pack, which creates vibrations; an audio translator which converts analog data into digital data; a wrist strap for safety purposes; and a plastic casing. The Nunchuk is similar to the Wiimote, however it lacks a speaker, rumble pack or pointing ability.

Applications for Physical Activity

Fitness Accessories

Input devices such as cycling computers, heart rate monitors, Nike+iPod, and pedometers tend to be used in conjunction with a previously-established fitness regimen. That being said, studies have demonstrated that pedometer use has been proven to not only increase the level of motivation of their users, but has seen significant increases in the amount of physical activity, especially when paired with a specific goal, such as distance walked or total number of steps daily (Brevata et al, 2007).

Training Aids

Devices such as golf simulators provide users with a training aid that analyzes his or her swing, as well as ball trajectory and distance. In turn, the user can refine his or her swing based on the data collected by the device.

Some training aids have also been developed to make practicing sport-specific skills more enjoyable and engaging. Bekker and Eggen (2008) discuss the development of an LED soccer ball. Depending on the skill to be practiced or mini-game being played, coloured LED lights located throughout the ball will light up, giving participants immediate feedback as to their performance. The skills progressively become more difficult to ensure that the users attain the highest level possible.

Gaming Consoles & Games

The entertainment factor of exergaming opportunities, like those found in various Wii games and DDR may motivate users more than traditional exercise would (Graf, 2009). That being said, there are a number of additional benefits found in these games.

According to Graves, Stratton, Ridgers, and Cable (2008), people who play Wii Sports will experience an increase in energy expenditure. While the increase is not enough to completely replace or act as a substitute for real physical activity, it is a step in the right direction for increasing physical activity. The Wii has also been proven to increase the skill level of the user in real life sports after practicing the same sport on the console (Siemon, Wegener, Bader, Hieber,& Schmid, 2009).

Dance Dance Revolution has been found to have significant health benefits for those who played the game regularly, and have an energy expenditure similar to that of a real-life game of tennis (Schiesel, 2007; Tan, Aziz, Chua & Teh, 2001). Furthermore, DDR has been found to be effective in developing and maintaining cardiovascular fitness, something that other games cannot currently claim to do (Tan, Aziz, Chua & Teh, 2001).

The Wii console and games, as well as video games from other consoles have had success developing a variety of skills with people with severe cognitive disabilities and developmental problems, people with multiple disabilities and learning disabilities, as well as in the rehabilitation of people with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and those confined to a wheelchair (Pearson & Bailey, 2007; Deutsch, Borbely, Filler, Huhn,& Guarrera-Bowlby, 2008).

Implications for Educators

With many governments instituting a mandatory amount of daily physical activity in schools, input devices such as those previously discussed provide educators with a variety of resources to increase the level of motivation and participation of their students in physical activity (see Province of British Columbia, 2007; Edmonton Journal, 2006).

Fitness Accessories & Training Aids

Fitness accessories and training aids are potentially the most affordable and accessible option for educators looking at utilizing input devices to increase the level of physical activity in their schools. They are relatively simple to set up and use, especially in the case of pedometers, which have been used with children as young as four years old (Cottrell, Spangler-Murphy, Minor, Downes, Nicholson & Neal, 2005).

Most devices could be used as a part of an ongoing fitness unit, where data such as total distance walked (pedometers), and resting and maximum heart rate (heart rate monitors) could be tracked, recorded and then analyzed. Given the data obtained by the devices, fitness and training goals and programs could be modified to suit the needs of each individual student. Training aids, such as the LED soccer ball, provides a challenge for participants as they follow the natural progression in skill development.

Gaming Consoles & Games

While a slightly more expensive option, gaming consoles are the more inclusive and social option for educators looking to utilize input devices to increase the level of physical activity in their schools. According to Gaver (1996), controllers that allow for natural movements, like the Wiimote, have the potential to offer greater affordances for social interaction. Furthermore, interaction during physical activity between students with special needs and those without special needs increases. This is because consoles such as the Wii do not require the fine motor skills that consoles such as the Playstation 3 or XBox 360 do, but rather require the user to utilize gross motor skills to play the game.

Like the fitness accessories discussed previously, certain games and consoles could be utilized as part of a fitness circuit, especially when considering games such as Wii Fit. With games such as Wii Fit, the progress of users can be tracked and saved, documenting changes in fitness levels and body composition. Games such as DDR, when paired with a fitness journal, could document similar changes to those recorded within Wii Fit. Additionally, gaming consoles and games allow students to stay physically active during recovery from injury, as well as during periods of inclement weather.

See Also

Let's Move: Michelle Obama's effort to eradicate childhood obesity

How to Calibrate a Pedometer: A short guide for setting up and calibrating a pedometer.

University of Houston's Wii Studio: The University of Houston's laboratory for a course entitled Wii Performance, the first of its kind offered at the post-secondary level.

Wii Fit Routine: A website devoted to creating Wii Fit workout routines for those with fitness and weight loss goals.


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Apple Inc. (2010). Nike + iPod. Retrieved March 1, 2010 from

Bekker, T.M., & Egger, B.H. (2008). Designing for children's physical play. CHI 2008, 2871-2876.

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Brevata, D.M., Smith-Spangler, C., Sundaram, V., Gienger, A.L., Lin, N., Lewis, R., et al. (2007). Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health. Journal of the American Medical Association, 298(19), 2296-2304.

Department of Health. (2009). Obesity general information. Retrieved March 5, 2010 from

Deutsch, J., Borbely, M., Filler, J., Huhn, K. & Guarrera-Bowlby, P. (2008). Use of a low-cost, commercially available gaming console (wii) for rehabilitation of an adolescent with cerebral palsy. Physical Therapy, 88(10), 1196-1207.

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Gaver, W. (1996) Affordances for interaction: The social is material for design. Ecological Psychology 8(2) 111-129.

Graf, D., Pratt, L., Hester, C., & Short, K. (2009). Playing active video games increases energy expenditure in children. Pediatrics, 124(2), 534-540.

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Siemon, A., Wegener, R., Bader, F., Hieber, T., Schmid, U. (2009): Video games can improve performance in sports. An empirical study with wii sports bowling. In: Wallhoff, F.; Rigol, G. (Hrsg.): Proceedings of the KI 2009 Workshop on Human-Machine-Interaction (KI 2009 Workshop on Human- Machine-Interaction Paderborn 16.September 2009).

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