Exergames: Video games are a fun way to stay in shape

By Robin Madell, Healthline Friday, August 08, 2014  

Who says working out can’t be fun? Fitness-oriented video games can be played from the comfort of your own living room with family and friends. Better yet, research suggests that “exergaming” can burn a respectable number of calories to help you get in shape.

While exergames are viewed on a TV or video screen using a wireless remote, they require participants to use physical movements (beyond simply wrist motions) to play the games. In a study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise on Nintendo Wii, exercise scientists at the University of Wisconsin found that these fitness video games:

  • Burn more calories than traditional sedentary video games
  • Provide some cardiovascular and strength benefits
  • Can be a suitable workout alternative when you lack time for outdoor exercise

The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity 5 days a week (or 150 minutes per week). This is especially important for seniors, as the AHA reports that 40 percent of people over 55 are not logging any physical activity in their leisure time. This is where exergames can be useful. The National Council on Strength and Fitness found that when it comes to just getting moving, active video games may offer the largest benefit to the elderly.

Let’s take a look at how 3 specific exergames can help you reach the AHA’s recommended amount of weekly exercise:

Wii Tennis

Nintendo’s Wii video game system is among the most popular of all exergames providers. Wii offers active games that mimic the actions for a wide range of sports, including baseball, boxing, bowling, and tennis. Wii Tennis is among the highest calorie-burners of the bunch, torching 5.3 calories per minute of active play, according to ACE. That translates to 159 calories over 30 minutes, or 318 calories per hour. (Only Wii Boxing burned more, at 432 calories per hour.)

To get the best fitness bang for your buck, do as the research participants were instructed to do:

  • Mimic the actions of the onscreen players to engage your whole body in the game.
  • Swing your arms when you hit the virtual ball, rather than just flicking your wrist.
  • Play 5 games in a row for 10 minutes per game, resting for 10 minutes between games.
  • Do this just 3 times a week, and you’ll reach the AHA recommendation.


Zumba Fitness

If you prefer a dance and rhythm workout to a sports video game, consider trying Zumba Fitness. Compatible with both Wii and Xbox systems, Consumer Reports calls Zumba Fitness a “solid cardio workout.” As in real-world Zumba, the exergame bases its moves around Latin ballroom dance steps, incorporating freestyle, break dancing, and other ethnic dances. You can choose whether to dance to a 20-minute, 45-minute, or hour-long class, and you can also select dance styles and intensities. As a bonus, a feature called “Zumba World” helps you locate live Zumba classes in your local area, should you be inspired to take it to the next level.

A daily 20-minute Zumba routine will get you close to the weekly workout recommendation.

Nike+ Kinect Training

If you want the most serious virtual workout you can get, try Nike+ Kinect Training for the Xbox 360. In this more traditional all-around workout program, you needn’t worry about overdoing it, as the game bases a customized training program on your current fitness level. If you prefer to use a preset workout, just use the “Quick Start” option.

Benefits of the game include the ability to focus your workouts on weight loss, strength building, or toning. A virtual trainer leads you through exercises, and you can even choose to use actual weights for your strength training. If you’re tech savvy, the game also provides the option of working out remotely with a friend, using a video chat feature and Xbox LIVE to provide motivation to each other.

Use Nike+ Kinect Training for 30-minute workout sessions five days a week, and you’ll meet the AHA’s recommendations.

No shame in exergaming!

While getting out and playing sports offers greater fitness benefits to exergames, exercise-related video games can provide an effective alternative to your regular workouts. Don’t throw in the towel on your physical activity goals just because you can’t get to a gym, playing field, or outdoor workout. Instead, fire up your exergames for fun and fitness.