Getting Fit with a Computer Game - The Nintendo Wii
By WLR Staff, by John Godsland
Is it possible? Can playing video games, the ultimate pass-time of the couch potato, really help with your fitness? It seems that this one can.
An Introduction to the Wii
You may have heard of the Nintendo Wii. It’s made headlines all over the world because it’s just a little bit different from all other game consoles that came before it. The difference is in the way you control games.
The Nintendo Wii uses a wireless motion sensitive controller, called the Wii Remote (or Wii-mote). This means that rather than holding the controller steady and using finger and thumb controls you hold the remote in one hand and move it around to control the action on screen. Whilst at first this seems rather odd it provides a far more natural way to control many games and whether you’re a seasoned gamer or an absolute beginner you’ll pick it up quickly.
What Do You Get in the Box?
As part of the purchase price of the Nintendo Wii console you get Wii Sports games. This includes five different sports; baseball, bowling (the ten-pin variety, not crown green), golf, tennis and boxing. Along with single (against the computer) and multiplayer versions of the games you also get a training mode, which includes three different exercises for each sport, and a Wii Sports Age feature which challenges you to a series of exercises and, based on your results, reports your “age”.
To find out whether a computer game could help with fitness I concentrated on the sports and training exercises that had the most potential for burning calories; boxing and tennis. There are other options such as bowling, baseball and golf and whilst they are all great fun they aren’t as physically taxing as boxing and tennis.
My Wii Tennis Workout
Tennis can be played in single player mode against the computer or with two, three or four players. Although playing single-player you actually play a game of doubles, controlling two digital players (or Mii’s as they are known). One of your players stays close to the net whilst the other roams the baseline. This allows you to return balls from all parts of the court. The computer controls your movement across the court – all you have to do is swing
the Wii Remote as if it were a tennis racquet at the right moment to return the ball.
Although the game is simple in concept a surprising amount of subtlety is involved with different orientations of the wrist and altering the power and swing allowing for a wide variety of shots. As someone who is a fairly weak tennis player the sight of your Mii charging across the court to catch a surprise cross-court shot is great fun.
If you fancy trying a game of tennis for real check out our Tennis for Weight Loss and Fitness article.
My Wii Boxing Workout
To play boxing you need to connect a second controller, known as a Nunchuk, to the Wii Remote. This plugs in to the base of the Wii Remote and is held in the opposite hand from the Wii Remote.
Bouts Boxing is much like tennis in that it is far more subtle than it first appears. Whilst your natural tendency when you first play is to lash out furiously with Wii Remote and Nunchuk, once you’ve been playing for a little while you get used to the more subtle angling of the controls and direction of punching that allows you to perform combos.
It is worth mentioning as well the boxing training exercises. One in particular, known as “Working the Bag” challenges you to knock down punchbags in a time limit. It is frantic fun and, unlike boxing against an opponent, concentrates entirely on throwing punches and ignoring defence.
Calorie Burning and Fitness Results
I played tennis in single player mode against computer opponents. Playing for half-an-hour my heart rate monitor showed that my heart rate didn’t drop below 100 beats per minute (I average 70 at rest) and I burned 160 calories. This was great fun.
After the session was finished I felt like I had had a solid aerobic workout, equivalent to a very brisk walk of the same duration. I should mention that I was playing the game single player against reasonably advanced computer opponents. I was also hitting shots with effort, deliberately swinging the Wii Remote as hard as possible.
With boxing, I concentrated on the training exercise “Working the Bag”. In a ten minute session my heart rate monitor showed a peak heart rate of over 150 beats per minute and that I had burned 155 calories. I stopped simply because I was tired! The effect was very much like a boxercise session. Again, much like tennis, this was swinging both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk as hard as possible.
Wii or not to Wii - Conclusion
The Nintendo Wii and Wii Sports are definitely great fun but do they help you exercise? The answer is definitely maybe.
It’s clear from the results of my simple testing that some of the games can give you a basic workout. Whilst they aren’t designed for this purpose they can get your heart rate up and burn a few calories. However, this does depend on how you play the games and it is possible to “cheat” and play with minimal movements of the remotes. Also, none of the games involve you using your legs although you do need to stand up to play if you don’t want the person on the sofa next to you to get a face full of Wii Remote!
Overall, whilst a welcome addition to your fitness training regime the Nintendo Wii cannot replace properly structured exercise. However, rumours abound that Nintendo have realised the potential in the Wii and that fitness programmes may well be on their way. Watch this space.
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