Feature Archive

Can You Really Get Fit with Wii Exercise Games?

Experts weigh in on the value of video game exercise.

By Annabelle Robertson
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

If you've been wondering what all the fuss is with the new Wii exercise games, you're not alone. Wii Fit, the new component to the Wii gaming console, launched May 19 and has been getting lots of buzz. In fact, if sales in this country match those from abroad, you may have trouble finding one.

The brainchild of Shigero Myamoto -- the computer whiz behind Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong -- Wii Fit is aimed at everyone, says Nintendo. The company created the video exercise game to go with its original Wii console, which boasts virtual games of tennis, bowling, baseball, boxing, and golf. You need to own that Wii -- or buy one, for about $250 -- to be able to use Wii Fit. For an additional $90, you get a CD full of exercises, information, and the all-important balance board.

A 12-inch by 20-inch plastic slab that looks like a smaller version of the steps used in aerobic classes, the balance board is Wii Fit's main accessory. All the exercises (except running) are done on the board or next to it, and it senses whether you're correctly positioned. It even functions as a scale.

How the New Wii Fit Exercise Games Work

After booting up the software on your Wii console, you'll be instructed to create a "Mii"-- an avatar you personalize with a nickname, facial features, and body type to match your own, using the game's signature "wiimote." After entering your date of birth, sex, and height, you'll activate the balance board and step up for your first weigh-in. With the blare of a trumpet, the narrator will announce your weight, body mass index (BMI), and your "Wii fit age."

Be prepared to hear that you're "overweight" if you have large muscles. The BMI doesn't take lean muscle mass and body fat into consideration, after all. Also, don't be surprised if your "Wii fit age" is older than you are. Your "Wii fit age" is largely determined by how well, and how quickly, you do the initial Wii balance test, and does not take into consideration other factors like muscle strength or cardio endurance.

Balance is a key component to Wii Fit. It not only determines your Wii fitness level, but is also one of the four categories of Wii fitness games. Balance games consist of a ski slalom run, a ski jump, a table tilt, and soccer "heading," during which you butt the onscreen ball with your head.

"Many Wii Fit activities are directed towards a 'core' workout, a popular exercise method that emphasizes slower, controlled motions," explains Marc Franklin, director of public relations for Nintendo of America.

According to experts, however, balance -- especially the ability to stay poised on a board -- rarely reflects actual fitness ability.

"In terms of skill, balance, coordination and agility are important for our functional capabilities, but they don't equate to how fit a person is," says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, FACSM, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

Other Types of Wii Exercise Games

In addition to the balance games, Wii Fit offers yoga, strength training, and aerobics. Each of these categories offers just four or five choices at first, but the longer you exercise, the more games you "unlock."

With yoga, for example, users can choose between deep breathing, the tree pose, a half moon, or the warrior pose. Bryant, who tested Wii Fit on an informal basis, says he was "reasonably impressed" with this part of the game, especially the biofeedback component, which measures how steady you hold each pose, in addition to proper weight distribution. But true yoga buffs are likely to scoff, he says.

"They'll probably take issue with Wii Fit simplifying the whole discipline too much for their likes," he explains.

If you select strength training, you can choose between single-leg extensions, torso twists, lunges, jackknifes, and a push-up/side plank combo. The balance board can't tell you whether you're doing these exercises correctly. It can only count how many times you do them (when you touch the board) and offer general suggestions, such as an admonition not to drop your hips during the side plank.

With aerobics, you can start with a basic step, a basic run (in place, off the board, with the wiimote in your packet) or hula-hooping. These all require a low level of cardio activity, and Bryant says he was the least impressed with this part of the game. But the farther you advance in the game, the harder these exercises become.