Will the Wii Fit Really Make You Fit?

A look at Wii exergaming research

Wii Fit Launch
Nell McAndrew, Gaby Logan, Kenny Logan, Rosemary Conley and Sarah Harding of Girls Aloud at the Wii Fit! launch at the Southbank on April 23, 2008 in London, England.

Jenny / Getty Images 

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. What do Wii Fit, Wii Fit Plus, or other workout games like EA Active and ExerBeat do for you?

Exergaming Looks Good in Theory

Studies that say physically active video games should keep you in shape exist. 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 had 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

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 play games that only worked out their fingers. It was theorized that children who play active games might 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

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

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. 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.

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

A small study by an associate professor at the University of Mississippi found that children did achieve “significant” aerobic fitness in three months, 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.

Physical Therapists Love the Wii

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 people living with Parkinson’s. The use of the Wii in “Wiihab” is quite popular; there’s even a ​blog devoted to it.

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