Will the Wii Really Make You Fit?

A Look at Whether the Wii is Really Going to Get You in Shape

When Nintendo released Wii Fit, it was billed as a way gamers could become healthier in their living rooms, an alternate gym where you could work out while having fun. But what do Wii Fit, Wii Fit Plus or other workout games like EA Active and ExerBeat really do for you? Can they really get you in better shape? Several studies have tried to figure that out. Here’s what they found.

Exergaming Looks Good in Theory

EA Sports
Electronic Arts

There are certainly studies that say physically active video games should keep you in shape. In 2007 the Mayo Clinic published a study showing that children who played active games got much more exercise than those who sat and watched TV, with dance games beating out walking a treadmill. Years later an associate professor at New York’s Union College found that seniors who rode an exercycle connected to a virtual reality program found had a greater cognitive improvement than seniors riding a normal exercycle. Another study showed that obese, inactive children who were given an EyeToy for the PS2 or PS3 showed improved BMI.

Exergaming Won’t Increase a Child’s Total Activity

Wii Fit Plus
Skateboarding via Balance Board. Nintendo

In a four-month study of children ages 9 through 12, the American Academy of Pediatrics found that the group that played Wii games requiring a lot of movement got no more total exercise than the group who played games that only worked out their fingers. It was theorized that children who play the active games may simply balance out their workouts by being less active the rest of the time.

The Wii Fit is Not a Lot of Exercise, But It’s Better Than Nothing

Arrows and the movements and instructions of the trainer tell you how to move your body. Namco Bandai

A small study of women using the Wii Fit found the amount of exercise they got was the equivalent of a “brisk walk.” So if you never take brisk walks, Wii Fit may be a good idea. Another study, funded by Nintendo, claims that about a third of the games in Wii Sports and Wii Fit offer “moderate intensity” exercise.

Fitness Games Don’t Necessarily Offer the Best Wii Workouts

Wii Sports Resort
You can put so much spin on a ping pong ball that it arcs like a Frisbee. Nintendo

A study of people in their early 20s by the University of Wisconsin La Crosse Exercise and Health Program concluded that running and step aerobics in Wii Fit are far less exercise than actual running and step aerobics, and while they did offer some degree of exercise, it was not sufficient to “maintain or improve cardiorespiratory endurance.” Interestingly, an earlier study from the same place showed that Wii Sports is a better workout, perhaps because you move more when not forced to stand on the Balance Board. I’m not surprised; when I made a list of the best Wii Workout Games, I only included two fitness games.

Even If Wii Fit Offers a Mild Workout, You’re Going to Stop Using It

Super Mario Maker

A small study by an associate professor at the University of Mississippi found that children did achieve “significant” aerobic fitness in a three-month period, but he also found that those who played Wii Fit for 22 minutes a day at first were averaging 4 minutes a day by the end. Still, the aerobic improvement in children sounds positive; I don’t why the study underplayed it.

Physical Therapists Love the Wii

Yoga on Wii Fit U
The trainer only has a vague idea of how well you're balanced. Nintendo

While exergames may not be the best way to get in shape, they have proved to be very useful to physical therapists, who see in the Wii an inexpensive set of tools. A study found that seniors who worked with Wii Fit could improve the balance, while another study found the same was true when treating children recuperating from balance-affecting issues. The Wii can also be used to help Parkinson’s sufferers. The use of the Wii in “Wiihab” is quite popular; there’s even a blog devoted to it.

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