4 Jan 2008

Getting fit with Wii Sports is a big fat delusion (updated)

filed under: journal  :: fitness  :: games  :: modern life  :: wii

If you're thinking of getting a Wii to get fit, think again, for now anyway.(See updates at the end.)

For Christmas, I finally got a Wii. Yes I'm quite behind the times, but I'm not really one who likes to jump on new stuff as soon as it comes out. I prefer to get the version 2s.

This is the first gaming console I've ever gotten. I've never been tempted by other consoles, ever. I do play the occasional PC game, but a dedicated machine for gaming? Nah.

What lured me to the Wii was the promise that somehow, it would help me to exercise. There have been reports on the interweb of people who have lost weight and stuff by playing Wii Sports. These have gotten a lot of attention from the Diggish crowd. Play games and get your ass moving! It sounded too good to be true.

Well, after having owned a Wii for a few days, I can say that it is indeed too good to be true. In fact, unless you are severely out of shape to start with, it's fairly rubbish as a real fitness device (see below about new accessories coming up which may change this, and what can be done to make it a bit more active).

I am not by any means in fighting shape, but I do some moderate exercise so am not totally hopeless. I usually prefer to walk/jog and such, or when the weather is uncooperative I do exercise videos. Sometimes the videos get a bit boring, so I was really hoping for the Wii to give me a fun alternative.

I wore my Polar heartrate monitor to see if I could get my heart rate up to a decent level by playing Wii Sports. The results are disheartening. The only two games that do anything to my HR are boxing and tennis. As for the rest, well, my HR rises more by stretching up to the top shelf of my kitchen cabinet where I 'hide' the chocolate stash.

Even with tennis and boxing, the HR doesn't really stay up at a decent level at all, since they are (a bit like the real sports they emulate) more anerobic sports requiring short spurts of movement than something steady and aerobic. But unlike real boxing and tennis, in the Wii versions there really isn't as much real foot movement to keep up the intensity. My heartrate goes up a bit, then sinks right down.

The really bad part is that since there's so much frantic arm movement during the boxing rounds or tennis sets, specific muscles get quickly over-fatigued. The day after the first time I played Wii Tennis, my arm and shoulder were so sore that I could barely raise them. Now I switch hands sometimes so that all the stress is not in just one arm. Fit little kids may not experience this, but I'm an old fart with creaky bones and tender muscles and tendons.

I am looking forward to the releases of the Wii version of DanceDance Revolution and the Wii Fit in Europe later this year, both of which sound more promising. (DDR for Wii is out already in the U.S.) In the meantime, Wii Sports is fun in short spurts, especially if I'm playing with other people, but for real exercise I'm sticking to my exercise videos and good old walk/jogging.

(Super Mario Galaxy is an awesome game though. I guess you could get some minimal exercise if you stood up to play it.)

Update: I had a couple of conversations with Wii fans who disagreed with my assumptions above. Taking their suggestions into account, I modified my Wii Sports session today a bit. First, I put on socks and sneakers, instead of doing it barefoot as I usually do. This allowed me to move around properly. I also made an effort to move around and stretch a lot more during tennis, pressing the A button to skip the replays, and really trying to turn my body properly for the shots. For boxing, I remembered my TaeBo sessions and moved my feet in boxing fashion (hmm, a Wii TaeBo would be fun) and danced around or jogged in place a bit between rounds or during countdowns if I knocked down my opponent. The extra body movement does help to keep the heartrate up - you just have to do it consciously. I played 2 5-set games of tennis, followed by two rounds for boxing; that came out to about 30 minutes. My heartrate went up to about the midpoint of my aerobic range for about a third of that time, and stayed more or less at the low end for the rest.

Still, I still think it's misleading to say that Wii Sports is good for fitness, because in order to move around properly so that you do get some exercise benefits, you need to have a certain level of fitness to begin with. And my heartrate still did not get up or stay up as well as it does with exercise videos or walking around the hilly terrain in my neighborhood. I can't imagine a very out of shape person, who is anti-movement anyway, getting much out of Wii Sports fitness wise - and the arm and joint strain problem would be exascerbated. If you are really out of shape, I believe (keeping in mind that I'm not a physician or trainer) you'd do far better by just walking (if you don't want to go outside there's always the treadmill option, or a walking video.)

But heck, it is fun, especially if you play with a friend. And if you want something to get your sedentary kids off the couch, it's perfect.

Update 2: In April 2008 I got WiiFit, which does turn the Wii into a real piece of fun exercise equipment. See what I thought about it after a month of using it.

(Comments are now closed because for some reason this post attracts an awful amount of spam.)

Comments on this post:

I really have to disagree

I really have to disagree with all the wii fans,
but a video game will never give you some emotional benefits of exercise.

Does your wii bring you something like :
* a better sleep ? NO.
* endorphins that could improve your mood and fight depression ? NO

Exercise is not always something physical, so also look at the mental/emotional benefits of exercise, these are the cornerstones to living healthier lives.

Dance Dance Revolution

Dance Dance Revolution

I think that wii is no good

I think that wii is no good as a fitness device, but good idea to combine fitness with gaming.

I must be really behind the

I must be really behind the times because I still go to gym when I want to do some exercises :)
Never thought of playing games like Dance Dance Revolution to stretch my muscles.

Thanks for the information on

Thanks for the information on the WII. Like Dina stated, DDR is probably the best fitness game out there. I have actually played that a few times myself and will admit, it's quite tiring.

I think that many people are simply looking for a shortcut to weight loss. The Wii, it's better than playing regular games at least.

Nobody ever got fit staying

Nobody ever got fit staying inside all day playing games. If you want to get fit you have to move your butts! Like running outdoors or using a treadmill for 20 minutes a day. No wonder this nation is turning obese!

ahh yes the are

ahh yes the are right, aside from wii fit it certaintly is not a fitness toy...but it is rally a LOT of fun. My favourite has to be Mario Kart. The wii fit is pretty cool too, if you can get yourself to do it at least 3 times a week then you will generally get a pretty good fitness stimulous off it. I love the yoga part of it, the stretches leave me feeling wonderful afterwards.

Does Wii have a ballroom

Does Wii have a ballroom dance edition does anyone know? Curious. This is interesting how all this can be incorporated into WII now! Please comment if possible....

It is not for the first time

It is not for the first time that I have read the information about Wii Spots. Yes, I know the results of the experiences and I have analyzed the people's opinions and I see it is not a good thing for my fitness. Your article it is a good example of the use.


Dance Dance Revolution is definitely the best video game I've found for exercise - after a session my heartrate is quite high, and I don't even play on the hardest level! I've played Wii Sports a grand total of once, but the next day my arm ached like nobody's business. I'm not that impressed, personally.

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