Researchers say playing video games that require physical movement can improve balance in children. ((CBC))

Researchers are giving a thumbs-up to the use of interactive video games as a way of promoting fitness with young people.

The University of Calgary's Canadian Exergaming Research Centre has spent the past couple of years testing Grade 3 and 4 students who have been playing a variety of interactive video games ranging from snowboarding to dancing to golf.

Dr. Larry Katz said children who took part in the study have improved their sense of balance by an average of 25 per cent for Grade 3 students and 29 per cent for those in Grade 4, about the same as the kids who exercised in a regular gym or schoolyard.

"The way they develop that balance is [through] a variety of different things," said researcher and PhD student Dwayne Sheehan.

"Using the snowboard simulating going down a hill, or being on the Wii Fit equipment, or even doing dance. We know we're developing qualities of dynamic balance while we're working on a Dance Dance Revolution system."

He said it's not a substitute for sports or gym class, but it may encourage kids to do more than just sit in front of their computer or TV.

"Most of time if you go and watch the schoolyards a lot of the kids are just wandering around, they're not really participating. We think that if you have a focus, if you can help them be successful, then they'll be more engaged," he said.

Katz said video fitness games are also a good way to fight childhood obesity.

He said many young people don't feel comfortable competing in sports and games, but the enjoyment level for those playing video games is universally high.

The Canadian Exergaming Research Centre, which opened in 2009, will look at agility next.

With files from CBC News