Can fitness video games improve your health?

When the Nintendo Wii first came out in 2006, it was marketed as a new and interactive way to play video games; players would actually have to swing their arms to play tennis. Soon after, Nintendo released Wii Fit, aimed at encouraging families to work out together and the question was raised: can the Wii and fitness video games really be used to work out?

Even though Wii Fit has activities such as strength training, aerobics, yoga, and balancing, consumers complain that it lacks the intensity needed for a “really good” workout. Released along with the Wii console in 2006, Wii Sports has a reputation for being high energy and users even reported soreness in muscles the following day.

In my quest to find fitness video game workouts that are fun and effective, I decided to substitute a week of running for a week of playing Wii Sports. I used a watch to track my heart rate and calories burned and then compared those numbers from Wii Sports to those of running.

When I run, I incorporate intervals to increase my heart rate for short periods of time; it usually takes me about 30 minutes to complete 10 intervals and burn about 325 calories. With Wii Sports, I decided to work out for an hour: I would complete the daily fitness test (five minutes), complete all three trainings for one sport (15 minutes each), and then play the game for 10 minutes. The three sports that I rotated between were boxing, tennis and baseball.


I started off Monday with boxing for an hour. My maximum heart rate was about 180bpm and that came from the first training exercise – Working the Bag – where you hit as many bags as possible. The second training exercise – Dodging – definitely worked my oblique abdominal muscles as I had to dodge side to side.

After an hour of boxing, I had burned 358 calories and was tired, but not exhausted like I usually am from running. The next morning, the muscles in my upper back, shoulders, triceps and oblique abs were sore.

I followed the same routine the next day with tennis and burned 397 calories in an hour while working my biceps. On the third day, I played baseball, which increased my heart rate up to 170 bpm and burned 428 calories with no major soreness. On the fourth day I went back to boxing, got my heart rate up, and burned 461 calories. The last day, I played tennis and burned 394 calories.

After those five days, I evaluated my week of Wii Sports exercising and decided that it was not a bad occasional substitute for regular exercise. I had burned significant calories and had fun. However, I do burn more calories by running for an hour than do playing Wii Sports for an hour. Additionally, I am not getting as good of a cardio workout with Wii Sports as I can with running.

Could Wii Sports replace traditional exercise? No, but it makes a good substitute Click To Tweet

That following week, I decided to return to my usual workout routine. After a week of Wii Sports, I could only complete half of my interval sets. I was short of stamina and constantly felt winded. This showed me that using the Wii Sports is not a direct substitute for a typical workout regime.

I will most likely use Wii Sports again to exercise, but not as a substitute. Maybe I will add on 30 minutes of boxing at the end of my run to work on my upper back muscles or play baseball on my rest days, but for me, Wii Sports is not a complete exercise program.