Kids: Cyber-Cycling for Behavioral Issues?

By: Matt Weik
IML Research Blog

Do your kids come home complaining about other students in their class that are a distraction to everyone else? Maybe your child was clinically diagnosed with a behavioral disorder?  With these types of disorders, it’s common to hear their behavioral issues disrupt the learning process.  In some instances, it seems like the teacher spends more time correcting students’ behaviors than they do actually teaching.  This is not meant to put down those suffering from disorders—they didn’t have a choice in the matter, unfortunately.  But, there might be a way to minimize these behavioral distractions through the use of virtual reality and exercise.

A New Kind of Gym Class

Researchers from Harvard University are now looking at using virtual reality games with stationary bikes as a form of gym class for students with behavioral issues. Rather than having them participate in the activities with the other students, the focus of their research is to see if this new form of activity changes the behavior of some of the children. This technology, though, is not cheap, and therefore many schools will not be able to afford the equipment, a major deterrent as schools have limited budgets and paying for something like a cybercycle could completely blow a budget.  Such equipment might be better suited for schools dedicated to students with behavior issues and disorders.

Cybercycling and the Study

This newly named form of exercise was developed by researchers who visited a school for kids with behavioral problems. 103 students were pulled into a seven-week study.  The average age of the participants was 12 and the majority of the participants were boys.  The goal was for the students to vigorously exercise through the use of the stationary bike and virtual reality platform for 10 minutes, working their way eventually up to 20 minutes during a normal gym class.

The group used in the study was made up of students with many different diagnoses. 60% of the participants had attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), 40% were autistic, 40% suffered from anxiety, and 30% had mood disorders.  Obviously looking at the math it doesn’t add up to 100%, and that’s because some of the students were diagnosed for multiple disorders.

At the end of the seven-week study, researchers found that the kids who used the cybercycling were 32-51% less likely to have behavioral issues during class.  In fact, they were misbehaving less which allowed them to stay in the classroom more and continue learning rather than needing to take a time-out outside of the classroom—causing them to miss important lessons being taught by the teacher and needing to get caught up once they returned.  Researchers also noted that while their behavior improved over the duration of the study, the most noticeable changes were definitely on the days they did the cybercycling.  One of the researchers stated, “Many studies have shown that aerobic exercise can help improve mood and behavior. When mood and self-regulation, which is the ability to control behavior, is improved, then children can be more successful in the classroom.

What we are missing in this study?

This new study, showing the relationship between virtual reality gaming while on a stationary bike and behavioral changes in kids diagnosed with disorders, is nothing short of promising. There are, however, a few key things missing from this study that will cause more research to be conducted.  With the majority of the students being boys, we need to see if there is a similar correlation with cybercycling and girls.  It would also be helpful to have a larger number of participants.  While 103 is a good number, more would definitely help validate the findings across a larger scale.

A public health researcher who was not part of the study mentioned, “It is important to see if their results translate into public schools, but as the authors point out, cybercycles are expensive and may be (too expensive) for most schools.”

Something else to consider is the repetition of cybercycling. We all know kids get bored when they do the same thing over and over.  What would make cybercycling any different?  What’s not to say that after ten weeks of using the cybercycle that students don’t lose interest?  It’s a strong possibility and one that should be explored further.

What this study shows us

 In general, the big takeaway from this research is that through vigorous bouts of exercise, children with behavioral issues and disorders can mitigate their condition to allow them to focus more on their schooling or anything they are doing throughout a given day.  This concept can also be used by parents in the home setting.  As shown in the study, the days that the students used the cybercycling were the best days for the children in terms of showing less signs and symptoms of their diagnosed disorders.  If parents included this style of exercise in daily routines for these children, they may be able to have fewer behavioral outbursts, allowing for greater focus.

The research leader stated, “They should not feel overwhelmed by the expectation that their child can only benefit if they exercise for 30 to 60 minutes, something that is very hard for many of these children and their parents to achieve. Instead, focus on finding something that your child enjoys and starting off with 10 or 15 minutes at a time; walking the dog, hiking with you, playing active video games, whatever it might be.”

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Originally posted 2017-02-07 18:53:57.