I’m not a gym person.
I don’t like working out.
I don’t have time for fitness.
I don’t know what to do with all those weight machines.
I’d rather play video games.
These are the types of responses I often hear from my clients, my video gaming disordered teenagers and young adults whom I coach.
Many have become quite sedentary and accepting of their unfit bodies and lifestyle. They enjoy sitting for endless hours, talking to friends online, and eating junk food in front of their gaming device.
Others are unhappy with the way that they look and feel, but lack the motivation to create any meaningful change to their routine.
I believe that video gaming addiction is a symptom of something deeper for the gamer, something too emotionally difficult to cope with. Gaming is the distraction, the escape from dealing with their internal pain. It’s an outlet that often makes them feel a sense of accomplishment, as well as providing online friendships.
Generation Z’s between 18 – 22 are now the loneliest generation and make the claim to be in worse health than older generations.
So, while multiplayer online communities allow this generation to make many connections, they actually feel more disconnected, more alone, and as a result of this, are also physically unfit.
To feel fully alive and connected, one needs tangible interactions, one needs to eat healthy and get their bodies moving. Exercise, especially cardiovascular movement, increases dopamine levels in the brain, which then elevates one’s low mood.
According to Harvard Medical Board member, Dr. Claire Twark, exercise, for those struggling with addiction, “helps to distract them from cravings. Workouts add structure to the day. They help with forming positive social connections, and help treat depression and anxiety in combination with other therapies.”
Exercise helps to alleviate both physical and psychological stress.
Dedicated physical activity, whether in recovery or while reducing the amount of time gaming, will reintroduce natural levels of endorphins in the body’s system. This not only helps one feel better, but it also reteaches the body that it is capable of regulating its own brain chemistry and mood in healthy ways. Fitness can increase feelings of self-confidence and optimism, and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
And for any of us who regularly exercise, we know that our bodies begin to crave it. We sleep better, we feel more capable, and our focus and interest in other activities increases.
Exercise can help a person to start looking for other healthier outlets and reduce their gaming time. It can help motivate them to want to live a happier life.
When my own son was struggling with a severe video gaming addiction, playing up to sixteen hours at a time, I instinctively knew that getting him to exercise would be key in helping him towards recovery. At the very least, it allowed him to feel better about himself and eventually strong enough to start working on his emotional pain with a therapist.
I took him with me to my group fitness classes, which took place in a private home. Here he was able to go at his own pace, with instructions, and feel a sense of community and camaraderie.
Today, he says that “exercise is the cheat code to life.” If he’s not exercising for a period of time, he falls down a rabbit hole of anxiety and starts losing his focus on his life goals. Reintroduce exercise, and he feels like he can conquer anything again.
So, how do we get our gaming disordered kids to start working out?
Ask them to challenge themselves, as though they are playing a video game. What obstacles do they need to get over? What do they do when there are obstacles in the game? What tools do they look for? What support systems do they need? What are the barriers?
Fear? Lack of knowledge? Funding? Finding a fitness path they can enjoy?
Find an affordable gym or hire a personal trainer who can look at fitness goals and create a plan to follow.
Look online for exercise training videos. These are free. Purchase some weights and a yoga mat to use at home.
Look for a runners club, swimming or cycling clubs, or group fitness classes outside of the home.
If there is a sport your child used to enjoy and feel they are able to return to, then help them find a local club and sign up. I usually suggest getting fit before tackling a sport one has stepped away from for a lengthy time. This helps to avoid risk of injury. But shooting hoops, heading to the driving range, or playing road hockey will get them moving, then by all means, support these activities, too.
Join your child as they exercise, if this is possible. Or have them find a fitness buddy to go with them and create accountability.
Be encouraging and give lots of positive feedback, just as video games provide.
As in video games, there are rewards. In fitness, the reward is the changes they will start to feel physically and mentally. My son really got hooked when he started seeing his biceps and pecs increase in size, when he saw the results on the scale.
Let them know that starting an exercise program is going to take some grinding, just as it does in gaming. We don’t see our greatest results immediately, but within a couple of weeks, changes become noticeable, and fitness goals feel more achievable. They have to stick to the plan.
This new fitness dopamine high may not reach the levels that playing video games can, but it’s a good place to start to provide other outside interests, perhaps introduce meaningful community, and an opportunity to create positive changes both emotionally and physically.
If you need help to find strategies for motivating your child to move away from their screen and start becoming more physically active, I still have availability for coaching clients.