Nearly every game system has a fitness game like the Wii Fit and EA Sports Active. The NPD Group tracks computer and video game sales in the United States. It reported in 2004 that:
- Console and portable software sales: $6.2 billion
- Console and portable hardware and accessory sales: $3.7 billion
- PC game sales: $1.1 billion
With the already massive wellness/fitness/diet market worth well over $400 billion it’s no wonder the video game sector has tried to tap into that.
The marketing is simple, bring fitness and exercise to something that you are already using many hours of the day in order to have fun and exercise in the comfort of their homes. Here is some info as to why these types of video games have become so popular; generally is has to do with the lack of activity of North Americans.
- 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey found that 23.1% of Canadians aged 18 or older have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more (Tjepkema, 2008).
- In the U.S. 65% of Americans are overweight and 31% are obese
- 40% of adults do not engage in regular physical activity (Bausch, Beran, Cahanes & Krug, 2008)
So with these two juggernauts joining forces there is only one question that begs to be asked. Does it work?
I’ve dug up a few studies to see the effectiveness of the Wii as fitness tool. Heart rate data from Wii boxing indicates the intensity reached corresponded of 68% of heart rate max of subjects. When comparing activities to real life in terms of energy expenditure we can see:
- Wii Sports and bowling = stretching
- Wii Sports boxing = sweeping
(Graves, Ridgers & Stratton, 2008)
The positive is that it increases energy expenditure. Bausch, Beran, Cahanes and Krug found that the energy expenditure for playing the Nintendo Wii was 128.8 Kcal/session (20 minutes) and 258 Kcal/session (one hour) (2008). So playing the Nintendo Wii only barely reaches the American Council of Sport Medicine suggestion of 150 to 400 Kcal per day from physically activity (Bausch et al., 2008).
The main reason people are drawn to fitness video games is the novelty and the fun factor. “Easy is always easier to sell”. Ask someone if they would like to deadlift a heavy barbell or play a video game. The average person is going to say play the video game over lifting the barbell. Of course doing a heavy set of deadlifts is going to provide more benefit compared the video game due more EPOC (exercise post oxygen consumption aka afterburn).
Probably should have deadlifted...
Although fitness video games are better than no activity there is number of aspects that was found to be problematic from a fitness perspective.
- Fitness assessment(s) were either too unspecific or too unreliable
- Wii Fit used BMI to determine body composition. We know that BMI is unreliable because it is does not factor in muscle mass.
- Fitness video games can be outgrown fairly fast
- A sedentary person could out grow a fitness game in a month or less
- Strength exercise don’t increase strength
- Instead of increasing resistance, most games increase volume. Which does not increase strength but increase endurance and defeats the purpose.
- These games claim that you can tone body parts and areas
- Tone refers to the hardness of a muscle which is directly related to body fat. The idea of spot training is a myth.
- To progress through exercise and get higher scores one must increase reps which lead to increase of injury
- The Hula Hoop exercise on the Wii Fit is a perfect example. I was able to do over 1000 repetitions in 6 minutes. The law of repetitive motion from Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson (2006) states:
- I= insult/injury to the tissue(s)
- N= number of repetitions
- F= force or tension of each repetition as a percent of maximum muscle strength
- A=amplitude of each repetition
- R= relaxation time between repetitions (lack of pressure or tension on the tissue)
- Promotion of lumber flexion and rotation
- Many exercise on the Wii Fit game like the torso twisting and the single leg twist cause excessive lumber flexion and rotation which can lead to back problems.
Fitness video games are a new genre of gaming because it involves movement. This can be used as tool to fight inactivity in North America. People must be careful not to solely rely on video games to help raise their fitness levels.
Do have any ‘exergaming’ experience? Sucess stories? Epic fails? We’d love to hear your comments about it below.
Bausch, L.M., Beran J., Cahanes, S. & Krug, L. (2008). Phyisological Responses While Playing Nintendo Wii Sports. Journal of Undergraduate Kinesiology Research: Volume 3, Number 2.
Graves, L., Ridgers, N.D., & Stratton, G. (2008) The contribution of upper limb and total body movement to adolescents’ energy expenditure whilst playing Nintendo Wii. European Journal of Applied Physiology: 104:617–623.
Tjepkema, M. (2006). Adult Obesity. Health Reports, Vol. 17, No. 3. Statistics Canada, Catalogue 82-003.