Can This Really Replace Going To The Gym?

It sure sounds like fun.

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Nintendo sure made fitness sound a lot more fun when they introduced the Wii and “fitness gaming.” The idea of making a game out of exercise is quite enticing, but do fitness games really help people get fit?

I have a Wii, but I only play sports games like baseball, golf, tennis, and bowling. When we first got our Wii, we “bowled” practically every night. It was a lot of fun seeing my little Mii character awkwardly popping around the big screen making three strikes in a row. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize you are not getting the same physical activity playing Wii sports as you would playing the real thing.

I do, however, see how couch potato gamers could feel better about playing more interactive games like Wii Sports instead of traditional video games that only require moving your thumbs. Although these games may get people off the couch, I’ve never met anyone in super fit condition who said they got abs from playing a video game. But I was happy to do a little research to see if they can prove me wrong.

How It Works

Wii Fit is just one of many fitness games flying off the shelves. Numerous other games are available for Wii, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles, such as Just Dance, Zumba, Nike+ Kinect Training, and UFC Personal Trainer, to name a few. Even Jillian Michaels has an exercise game.

Most games come with various components to measure activity and monitor movement. Wii Fit games are centered on a Wii Balance Board and include movements focusing on basic core exercises like yoga and balance activities.

Games like Nike+ Kinect use Xbox’s impressive built-in lens, which tracks your movements to monitor your form and activity, whereas Just Dance 4 for PlayStation shows you all the dance moves but doesn’t really give you accurate feedback like Xbox and Wii do.

Pros And Cons

The pros are obvious. Video fitness gaming is convenient, fun, and has a certain cool factor to it. I could see where fitness gaming would appeal to the traditional gamer and be great for kids. I could also see how fitness games may offer some basic instruction to spark an interest in getting fit and learning more too.

As for serious fitness needs, I am not convinced that fitness gaming is the most effective route to getting fit. In general, most fitness games are for beginners and only offer entry-level exercises. I would call that a con.

In other words, if you already work out and think a fitness game could replace your current routine, I’m afraid you will be quite disappointed.

Each game seems to have its own list of pros and cons. For Nike+ Kinect, the biggest con was the space required to do all the exercises. While the exercise format itself probably has received the highest praise out of all fitness games, there are many complaints about the floor space required to complete all the exercises correctly.

One obstacle for Wii Fit is the Balance Board’s weight limit of 330 pounds. Another issue is that one size doesn’t always fit all. In other words, a generic workout program is just that: generic. Although the exercises are very elementary (maybe even too elementary), if you have bad knees or other limitations you need a real live expert to help you modify and adjust your activity.

Another major obstacle is the price. Not everyone has $300-$500 to spend all at once. At least with gym memberships, you can budget fitness into your bills and pay by the month.

If you want to get into fitness gaming, there is an initial investment required. Game consoles cost $275-$399 at most super stores. After you buy the console, you have to purchase the game itself, which is an additional $30-$69, depending on the game and components needed. Of course, this doesn’t include any extras you choose to purchase for your home workout experience, which can add up fast.

By the time you are done purchasing your fitness game, you could have bought an annual membership at my gym, along with access to a ton of equipment and actual classes led by real live instructors. Going to a gym may not be as convenient as working out at home, but you get a lot more bang for your buck with a traditional gym membership.

There is no better accountability than being around people. All the motion sensors in the world can’t replace human touch and direction. Then there is the added benefit of being around people who are watching you do each rep. That always seems to boost performance. It’s in our nature as humans to find shortcuts and figure out ways to cheat, especially when no one’s looking. Just being in a room full of other people working out with you provides plenty of accountability.

Lastly, if you really want to know what the pros say, the chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, FACSM, is quoted in an interview with WebMD saying that while fitness gaming is “certainly better than the alternative — traditional video games — one shouldn’t use it as a substitute for the real thing.”

Fit Or Flop

While the idea of fitness gaming is great if you use it to its fullest, working out alone at home requires a lot of discipline. Like any home workout system or fitness video series, in order for them to be effective you have to use them. That’s why most home workout programs fail. It’s not that they don’t work, it’s that we don’t work.

So, while fitness gaming has its place, it can’t compare with the real thing. In the end, it’s still a game.

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