24 October 2008

Wii Fit put to the test

A video game to help you get fit? That's what the Nintendo Wii Fit was intended for. We put it to the test, and the results were more than a little surprising.

When the Nintendo Wii Fit was first released it was greeted with much scepticism and raised eyebrows among fitness gurus the world over. "A game consol to make you fit!" they scoffed. So we put it to the test and asked a sport and fitness expert what she thought after using it for a month.

Dr Tracy Kolbe-Alexander (UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town) was given the Wii Fit to take home to her family and asked to give her honest, expert opinion on whether it really was an effective fitness tool. Her answer? Well, yes and no:

"Compared to the Wii Sports, I think that the Wii Fit is better as the activities in general have a higher intensity. I also think that someone who chooses Wii Fit is less likely to try to cheat the system – in the Wii Sport you can get a high score without completing the whole movement, for example boxing by just moving your wrists.

"But the bottom line is that you shouldn’t expect benefit if you are going to try to do as little movement as possible. I would also warn against using this as a substitute for ‘real’ activity. This is better than sitting down and playing games, but not better than the ‘real McCoy’!" she said.

And the most effective exercises? According to Kolbe, she found the boxing game "good" and was impressed by the muscle strength activities which she said could be used to increase muscle strength in those who are starting out with exercise. She also found the balance exercises very good.

Heads up to parents
Kolbe said that while she would prefer her children to play and exercise outside in the fresh air where they can really run around and burn up energy and get fit, the Wii Fit is a pretty good substitute for those rainy days when the kids are stuck inside.

"Rather than have them sitting watching TV or playing games on the computer, I found that at least with the Wii Fit they were still active as well as entertained. Also, it doesn't feel like exercise to them," she said.

"But I would still encourage parents to try to get their kids to play outside. If the kid is a techno junkie, or has low self efficacy, then the Wii Fit could play a role in promoting physical activity," she added.

After a month of using it in her home, she said her two-year-old liked the baseball games; her four- year-old was a huge fan of baseball, running, boxing and walking the tight rope; her 14-year-old enjoyed the golf, hoola hoops and bowling; her 16-year-old liked the golf and balance exercises.

Wii Fit for granny?
Kolbe also pointed out that the Wii Fit could definitely be used as a good exercise tool for older people who cannot take part in strenuous activity, as the exercises are gentle.

"I think it could definitely benefit older adults who have transport limitations as well, as this way they can exercise in their home. They can even have competitions for those living in managed care. Also, the exercises are at a basic level and most are safe to do.

"They may need supervision and assistance with the balance ones, however, but improving their balance can play a role in reducing the risk of falls. It's also lots of fun!" she said.

The conclusion
So after a month of the Wii Fit in her home, Kolbe concluded that while there it had many benefits, she would not be buying it for her younger children – but might consider it for her teenagers in the hope they might have more control over the time spent on it.

"I would worry that it could become a substitute for real activity and kids could end up doing less physical activity than normal – instead of playing outside, they play the game. On the other hand, it could encourage more physical activity in kids who prefer computer games and technology and wouldn’t ordinarily exercise much.

"It could also increase self efficacy for those who do not like gym, which could be an alternative especially for beginners or older adults," she said.

Source: Dr Tracy Kolbe-Alexander (UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine; Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town)

(Amy Henderson,, October 2008)

Read more:
Video games for weight loss
Video games now health therapy


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