Nintendo Wii* - The newest craze in fitness. But does it really help?

In 2006, Nintendo once again revolutionized the world of video games with the release of the Nintendo Wii video game console, launching a new era in the age of video games- the exergame era. Exergames, as the word implies, incorporate elements of both video games and exercise that require players to use physical movements to manipulate actions in the game. The console comes bundled with a Wii Sports package, which includes baseball, boxing, bowling, golf, and tennis.

The exergame would seem to be a natural next step in fitness in a country where people spend an average of 19 to 25 hours a week watching TV and playing video games. But can you burn a significant amount of calories and get a good workout just from playing Wii Sports?

That’s exactly what the American Council on Exercise (ACE) aimed to find out when they sponsored a study on the exercise benefits of the Wii.1 Exercise scientists at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse Exercise and Health Program recruited 16 volunteers (equal males and females) between the ages of 20-29 for the study. After taking an exercise test to determine maximal heart rate and maximal oxygen uptake, subjects played each of the five Wii Sports games for 10 minutes in random order, with a five-minute break between each game to allow subjects heart rates to return to within 10 beats of their normal resting rate. Participants were instructed to simulate the body movements used in each actual game. For example, for tennis, participants would swing their entire arm as they would a racket, and change their stance when necessary. Researchers recorded heart rate and oxygen uptake at one-minute intervals, and interviewed subjects during the final minute of each sport to determine their perceived level of exertion.

Though all participants experienced increases in heart rate, oxygen uptake and perceived exertion — and therefore calories burned — calorie expenditure was greatest for tennis (5.3 calories/minute) and boxing (7.2 calories/minute), which are higher intensity games. A half-hour of sparring using Wii Boxing can burn a total of 216 calories, and a half-hour Wii Tennis match can burn 159 calories.

Playing Wii golf burned 3.1 calories/minute, bowling burned 3.9 calories/minute, and baseball burned 4.5 calories/minute. In addition to burning the most calories, boxing was the only game with enough intensity to maintain or improve cardiorespiratory endurance as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine.

So what’s the bottom line? Playing Wii Sports can provide a decent workout when you just don’t have the time or motivation to exercise. After all, it does burn calories and increase energy, and well, it’s just plain fun, which may help you stick with it. However, engaging in the actual sports provides more cardiovascular and strength benefits than playing Wii Sports, because you utilize your entire body, and the accessories required for these sports, such as a bowling ball or a baseball bat, weigh significantly more than a Wii controller.

Note: Expanding on their exergame idea, in May of 2008 Nintendo launched Wii Fit, an extension to the Wii that uses a balance board to take players through 40 different exercises including aerobic workouts, strength training, balance and yoga. ACE is currently sponsoring a study to examine the benefits of the new Wii Fit.

1. Anders M. As Good as the Real Thing? Fitness Matters 2008;14(4):7-9.

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