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How eSports is Affecting Gamers’ Bodies

Blog written by John Kalns

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The Unique Physical Challenges of eSports

eSports is big and rapidly increasing in size. And it’s not just big – it’s huge, because most fans are gamers themselves who spend tons of time in the chair. Of course, there are plenty of gamers that don’t really follow eSports, but still game a fair amount and spend hours watching games on Twitch and YouTube. The point is that people are spending more and more hours in front of screens.

So what does this mean in terms of health? Well, no one really knows for sure. Gaming is still so new that the long-term effects are still unknown.

Beyond practicing the game itself and working on fine motor skills (like aiming), what is the best method to condition the mind and body for eSports? Once again, it’s hard to say whether there is any broad consensus. Data-driven best practices are just beginning to develop.

In my opinion, one recent paper shined some light on a fundamental question: Are the bodies of eSports athletes different than regular people’s?


Are Gamers’ Bodies Different Than Non-Gamers?

This fundamental question was posed by researchers at NYIT (New York Institute of Technology), and their entire article can be found here. Here’s the short version:

  • What was the point of the study? The study wants to determine if eSports players are any different than same-age students who don’t game, with respect to body composition.
  • How was body composition measured? The investigators used a sophisticated medical imaging technology called a Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry Scan. This technique enables determination of whole-body composition that includes total mass, lean mass, fat mass, fat percentage, bone mineral content, and visceral fat. The extremities and trunk were evaluated separately to provide an estimate of the percentage appendicular lean mass, which is a measure of physical strength, particularly in the arms and legs.
  • What else was measured? Researchers used Fitbits to measure physical activity and how long each participant slept during the study. They also recorded time spent doing non-game recreational activities on computers or devices, as well as the height of each participant.
  • How was a decision made to consider a difference significant? Like many studies, it is assumed that data for each parameter in each group are distributed according to a Gaussian distribution. A simple t-test was used and a statistical difference of p=0.05 was used. One way of thinking about this is that if 20 similar experiments were performed, one experiment would show a different result when p=0.05.
  • Who was in the study? All participants were male college students at NYIT. The participants in the eSports group were age-matched with participants in the non-eSports control group. There were 13 eSports participants and 11 control group participants.


Here’s What the Study Found (Summarized in the Table)

  • eSports athletes had statistically and significantly LOWER levels of the following (compared to the control group): physical activity, bone mineral content, appendicular lean mass, and lean mass.
  • eSports athletes had statistically and significantly HIGHER levels of the following (compared to the control group): body fat, time spent using a computer or other device for recreational purposes.
  • eSports athletes had statistically and significantly THE SAME levels of the following (compared to the control group): body mass index of BMI, age, hours of sleep, total body mass, visceral fat.


What Does It Mean?

This is not good news for eSports athletes because parameters of body composition measures are heading in the wrong direction. There’s higher percentage of fat, less bone, less lean muscle, and less physical activity. But what’s interesting is that Body Mass Index, or BMI, is virtually the same in eSports athletes and non-eSports people. Both groups of people are normal and healthy (not obese) if you only focused on BMI.

BMI is a big deal because it serves as a parameter for many risk analyses (diabetes, heart disease, cancer) and can help manage medical and lifestyle interventions. Below is what the authors have to say about the topic of obesity in eSports:

According to the “gold standard” for obesity (BMI), eSports people are LESS likely to be obese than “normal” people.  When you use the more sophisticated measure of body fat percentage, for which there is much less history, you come up with a completely different conclusion. The authors recognize that there isn’t that much data on body fat percentage as a prognosticator of long-term problems and, thus, making firm conclusions about what may happen years from now is not possible.


What Next?

The message here is that gaming can have some negative effects on the human body. This is a small study and results may be different with another population. In addition, the health outcomes associated with body composition data are not as well-developed as they are for BMI, so maybe this isn’t too bad. Still, it’s not too surprising that spending hours sitting in a chair leads to muscle loss and increased fat. That being said, it really is a bit distressing to see just how different eSports athletes are compared to “normal” non-gamers.

Something to consider is how one could offset the negative impact of gaming. Clearly, eSports athletes may benefit from getting out of the chair, and it seems like some amount of high intensity exercise would help. But the bigger question is determining the best way of training that increases gaming performance while preserving the overall health of the athlete. As with most things concerning eSports, this is a developing area that needs more research.


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References


Esports players, got muscle? Competitive video game players’ physical activity, body fat, bone mineral content, and muscle mass in comparison to matched controls – ScienceDirect. (n.d.). ScienceDirect.Com | Science, Health and Medical Journals, Full Text Articles and Books. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254620300934?via%3Dihub

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