Thursday, January 28, 2010

Put to the Test, Popular Exercise Video Game Loses Steam

So, your kids have been permanently parked on the couch this winter and you're considering plunking down $90 for a Wii Fit in hopes that the exercise video game will boost their activity level.

If they're like most kids, yours will love Hula Hoop and Rhythm Boxing, just two of the games featured on Wii Fit. And they're in good company. Analysts believe that the wildly popular Wii Fit, which emphasizes strength training, aerobics, yoga and balance games, will eventually become the best-selling video game of all time. 

But how much of a workout will they really get?

That's the question the American Council on Exercise (ACE) wanted to answer, so they enlisted the help of researchers at the University of Wisconsin La Cross Exercise and Health Program.The researchers recruited 16 volunteers for the study, and after establishing their fitness baseline, taught the recruits how to use the six most aerobically challenging games in the Wii Fit program: Free Run, Island Run, Free Step, Advanced Step, Super Hula Hoop and Rhythm Boxing. Recruits were then tested in six-minute cycles of each activity while their oxygen uptake, heart rate and RPE (rate of perceived exertion) was monitored.

The two Wii Fit games that required the greatest effort were Island Run and Free Run. "However, neither was sufficient enough to maintain or improve cardiorespiratory endurance as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)," ACE's November/December 2009 report said. In all cases, researchers found that an individual performing the actual activity instead of the virtual one on Wii Fit would burn significantly more calories. 

How could this be? Two examples, according to researchers, are the Free Step and Advanced Step, both aerobic step activities. But while traditional step aerobics involves stepping on a 6-inch-high platform, the Wii Fit balance pad is just 1- or 1.5 inches high, said researchers, thus reducing the number of calories burned.  Researchers also discovered that Wii Fit's Rhythm Boxing burns only a third of the calories that would be expended in traditional boxing because the Wii Fit software provides mandatory instructions before each boxing move, keeping the user standing in place for as much as 15 seconds at a time and thus lowering the total calorie burn potential.

According to researcher John Porcari, Ph.D., "I guess anything is better than nothing, but we were a little bit underwhelmed with the exercise intensity of some of the exercises. The Wii Fit is a very, very mild workout."

If the kids are clamoring for a Wii Fit, don't despair. If they become hooked on Wii Fit, it could mean they'll stick with exercise more faithfully. Just make sure they're making time for traditional workouts, too.


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