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The Wii is Useless for Fitness and Exercise…Really?

Well, another year, another study saying “The Wii is No Good for Fitness”. If you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably noticed in the last few days there have been all kinds of headlines decrying the Wii and its effectiveness as a fitness and exercise tool.

“Wii Sports Games Not Real Exercise” – Fox News
“Active video games don’t mean kids exercise more” – Reuters
“Study finds Wii games not great for kid exercise” – Newsday
“Why Active Video Games Don’t Make Kids Exercise More” – Time
“Wii active video games don’t acount as exercise” – CNET
“Active Video Games Don’t Make Kids more Active” – Huffington Post
“Active Video Games Don’t Keep Kids Moving” – NPR
“Active Video Games Like Wii Fit Won’t Boost Kids’ Physical Activity” – CBS News

The list goes on and on. Seems that it all started with a study done by the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston TX. Evidently they gave out free Wiis to78 overweight kids aged 9 to 12 and studied them over four weeks. They put a belt on the kids to measure their level of physical activity each day. They gave an “active” video game to one set of kids (which included Wii Sports, which frankly I would question as really being an “active” game) and an “inactive” game to another set. Lo and behold, after the study was done, they didn’t see a lot of difference between the two. And their scientific conclusion? The Wii is useless for fitness.

Every couple of years another academic program puts out a new “study” that comes to this kind of conclusion. I wrote a rather long post on the forum back in July to express how ridiculous I thought these studies are. Here’s what I wrote, which I believe more than ever today:

I always get kind of a chuckle when I read these “studies”–if I were given grant money to play video games during college, I might just have paid a little more attention in class than I did 😛

The main issue I have with these studies is that proclaiming that “Wii Exercise Works” or “Wii Exercise Doesn’t Work” isn’t a scientific question. It’s like asking “do treadmills work?” or “do elliptical machines work?” In my case, I’ve had an elliptical machine in my living room for about 5 years now and I’ve used it about 4 times. So if the study were done on me, the answer would be no, elliptical machines are useless for losing weight.

Two other issues I have with these studies are 1) that they’re always done on a very, very small sample size, and 2) the educational community doesn’t seem to realize that there are a LOT more exercise games out there than Wii Fit and Wii Sports!

The answer I like to tell people when they ask “Is the Wii really good for exercise” is: Yes. But ONLY if they are committed to it. Which means this:

1) Playing to the point where you sweat and have an elevated heart rate for 30 minutes at least three times a week indefinitely (!)

2) Changing your lifestyle. Walk or bike instead of driving to the store. During lunch hour, walk for an hour instead of sitting at your desk the whole day.

3) And of course, changing your diet! REALLY cut down on fats and empty carbs. Aside from looking great, you WILL feel better and you really WILL be adding years to your life. We pay money for heath and life insurance, but what is REAL “insurance”? Forking money to insurance companies won’t add one second to your life or improve your outlook on life. Eating right and exercise will.

I think the reason fitness video games “fail” for most people is that video games should be *fun*. But admittedly, it’s not fun to be sweating and panting three times a week. This is why I suggest “mixing up” the games. Play EA Sports once a week, play Just Dance 2 once a week, play Dance Dance Revolution once a week on family game night.

I would also challenge Wii game publishers to stop putting out the same garbage year after year and start really innovating. This is where I love games like Walk It Out and Exerbeat, where the traditional “addictive video game elements” like collecting coins and completing a “round the world” board are great motivators. As I’ve said many times, the best fitness games are games where you “work out without feeling like you’ve worked out”.

Bottom line, your body is built to take in food for fuel and to use fuel when you burn calories. As long as your output > your intake, you WILL lose weight. Guaranteed. As for how to do that output, some people go to the gym, some people jog, some people bike. Those things are great, but I like that there’s an option to get great exercise right in your own home, especially on days like today when it’s 107 degrees out, and I’m in my air conditioned room!

My opinion hasn’t changed. If you’re a parent of an overweight child, you don’t just buy a Wii and stop parenting. No, you make sure you buy them *real* active games that will get them on their feet and really working out (doing your research on sites like this and others). Then, you encourage them to play it until they work up a sweat and a sustained elevated heartrate–and the best way to do this is to play with them and let the competitiveness of video games be a motivator. And of course, you DON’T do this instead of other ways of exercising like going outside and playing ball or riding a bike (it always bugs me that these sensationalist articles always treat Wii exercise as if it’s an “either-or” thing, as if exercising indoors with the Wii on a cold winter day will somehow prevent someone from going out and exercising on a sunny day).

If you hear a little annoyance in my voice, it’s because this is just sloppy academics and sloppy journalism, but thousands of people will read the headlines and take them at face value–and sadly, that’ll prevent game manufacturers from building great games that are both fun and active.

I personally have gotten great exercise from Wii games, and I know a lot of you have too. And so while these fine academic institutions use their grant money (and presumably our tax dollars) to fund more and more studies like this, let’s just keep spreading the word–that Wii games can be great fitness for kids, but only if we get parents and families involved, and keep the journalists and theoretical eggheads out of it! 🙂

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