Wii for Weight Loss: Exercise Games vs. Gym Workouts

Jennifer L. Nelson

These days, when kids play popular video games for systems like the Nintendo Wii, they strap a remote to their wrist and move their lookalike avatar on the screen by getting up and moving their bodies.

It came as no surprise when fitness-inspired Wii games targeted toward adults started hitting the market. These video games promise to help you slim down, tone up, and lose weight, all in the comfort of your own home ... and in your jammies, if you wish.

That's why when I got my Wii, I invested in some exercise games and stocked up on balance boards, wrist weights, jump ropes, and other Wii-compatible fitness accessories.
But I had to wonder: are video game workouts really as effective as old-fashioned gym sessions?

So I put them the comparison to the test. Read on and I'll tell you how Wii exercise games matched up against gym workouts ...

Pounding the treadmill for 45 minutes every day was getting to be a snooze; what better way to make working out enjoyable again than with exercise video games? Fun! Plus, the Wii balance board functions as a scale, so games like Wii Fit can track your weight loss progress, calculate your BMI, and tell you whether or not you're overweight (yeah, that part's not so fun).

I wanted to give a game like The Biggest Loser Challenge the benefit of the doubt, especially since it claims to deliver workouts that mirror those the contestants endure on ranch. But I also needed to determine if playing video games was worth my time and energy. Most of us can barely find the time to carve out a 30-minute workout, so you don't want to waste your time on something that will prove ineffective at helping burn calories or build muscle. I strapped on my heart rate monitor and put some of these virtual workouts to the test.

Unfortunately, I have some bad news for my hopeful video game junkies.

Despite burning roughly 10 calories/minute when I'm doing more traditional cardio like running, biking, or using the elliptical, I had to fight just to keep my heart rate up long enough to burn half that when tackling some of the Wii Fit workouts or completing even the "moderate-" or "high-intensity" full-body workouts in The Biggest Loser game. I was lucky to clock in at 200 calories burned for 30 minutes of gaming.

However, I saw little difference between doing push-ups with the Wii and doing them at the gym as far as my heart rate (and muscle soreness) were concerned. So I'd say the strength-training moves are more effective than the aerobic exercises.

I don't care what anyone says: running in place is not the same as running on a treadmill or outdoors.

This isn't to say that the games won't make you break a sweat or help you get back into your skinny jeans; exercises like mountain climbers and lunges still kill me -- and even more so when a virtual Jillian Michaels is barking at me. The trouble is that there can be an awful lot of down time between exercises. I have to keeping stopping to move the remote from my wrist to my pocket, or the game spends too much time explaining movements and not enough time prompting you to do them. 

Admittedly, I think I'm most of the problem. I've learned that I work way harder when I'm at the gym and surrounded by big buffed men and teeny tiny toned women who I'm convinced are paying me more attention than they actually are. In the interest of maintaining appearances, I push myself a whole lot harder than I do at home ... when nobody's there to judge me except my Shih Tzu.

If you're looking to get off the couch and start moving once and for all, investing in a Wii and a couple of fitness games is a great first step. For those of us who get bored with the same exercise routine, working in a video game day or two each week is the perfect way to break up the monotony and challenge new muscles.

Games like Dance Dance Revolution or Gold's Gym Dance Workout will get your heart pumping, and they're so much fun that you actually forget you're exercising. Yogis can enjoy their own personal practice session with the press of a button, and even hardcore athletes can engage in conditioning and high-intensity drills with games like EA Sports Active 2 or their NFL Training Camp.

Still, I'm not canceling my gym membership any time soon.

What do you think of exercise video games? Do you get just as good a workout as when you go to the gym or head outdoors for a walk or run?

Image via enfad/Flickr

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