In recent times, the video game industry has overcome its reputation for being couch-potato-inducing, receiving the recognition of health professionals for making ‘fun fitness’ a virtual reality.

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This has led to an ‘exergaming’ (exercising while gaming) boom, which has seen an explosion of active video games on the interactive gaming market. Nintendo’s Wii Fit Plus, Sony PlayStation’s Move and Xbox’s Kinect are the leaders in electronic fitness and work by tracking body movement and reactions using technology.

Of all the ‘exergames’ (exercise games) on the market, Nintendo’s Wii Fit Plus is a popular choice. And with more than one million Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus games sold in Australia so far, it’s clear many Australians are incorporating exergames into their workout routine.

PT Brett Handreck says Wii Fit and other electronic workouts have bridged the gap between gym-haters and gym-junkies, also keeping couch-dwellers active in the comfort of their own lounge rooms.
“The simple nature of the Wii Fit set-up allows people to get straight into a positive routine that will hopefully set them on the road to a fit and healthy lifestyle,” Handreck says.

Angela Spehr of All Interactive Entertainment says the advances in video game technology makes exercising using video games even more fun as the user is getting real time feedback on their activities.
Want to know whether you should put a little gaming fun into your workout, too? Here’s your guide to exergaming, using Nintendo’s Wii – becoming a living-room athlete couldn’t be more convenient or fun!

The basics
The Nintendo Wii comes with Wii Sports, through which you can play a variety of competitive sports such as boxing, tennis, golf, baseball and bowling by yourself or with a gaming buddy. To play, you need to use the Wii Remote, which is a hand-held, motion-sensitive controller that works to translate your real-world actions into the virtual world, making your animated on-screen avatar mimic your movement.
And because it can judge the intensity of your movement, you’ll need to punch hard when you’re in Wii’s boxing ring, swing big when teeing off on the almost-real green and work your forehand on the virtual tennis court. With all that effort, you’ll be working up a sweat in no time!

In addition to these activities, there are a number of other titles available for the console, such as Wii Fit Plus, which has become a favourite among modern fitness devotees.
Unlike Wii Sports, as its name suggests, Wii Fit Plus focuses on improving fitness. Launched in Australia in 2009 as an upgrade to Wii Fit, it builds on the original with new activities that add to the original line-up. It also provides more detailed feedback on the player’s performance and allows players to create a personalised workout routine based on specific objectives or available time. It also amps up the fun – you can even create profiles for pets and babies!

The game uses a platform called the Wii Balance Board on which the player stands during exercise, enabling the program to measure your centre of gravity, weight distribution and balance. The board is pressure-sensitive, meaning it knows when you’re taking a break from exercise and your PT will step in to encourage you to hop back on (and scold you!).
Wii Fit Plus is a great way for independent workout types to custom-design their workout routine. The program offers a range of activities that can provide a moderate-intensity, all-round workout, including yoga, strength training and aerobics, also focusing on the three important principles of fitness: knowing your own physique, training yourself and keeping track of your progress.

Getting started
When you first use Wii Fit Plus, you will be required to undertake The Body Test, which measures your centre of gravity (to assess posture), BMI and athletic ability, before presenting you with your Wii Fit Age. Your Wii Fit Age indicates how old your body is when measured in terms of fitness and taking the test regularly ensures that you’re more aware of your figure and posture through your results.
The program combines all the results from each component of the test to calculate your Wii Fit Age and retains the results under your profile so you can track your progress.
You can then make a start on your activities. With so many to choose from, it’ll be tough to get through them all in a single workout session!

The strength training and yoga exercises offer step-by-step tutorials with a virtual PT who will teach you how to perform the moves correctly. You also have an on-screen indicator that enables you to track your own movement on the Balance Board to make necessary adjustments.
There are also undeniably fun games that are entertaining, but also physically demanding. Bird’s-Eye Bulls-Eye is one such game, requiring you to rigorously move your arms up and down, just like a bird flapping its wings, to keep your virtual character up in the air and flying. The challenging part is trying to land on the designated spot, which involves lots of strategising and energy expenditure, not to mention a heap of fun, too.
The jogging activity is one of the biggest energy burners and you get all the virtual help you need to develop a steady and efficient running style with a running buddy who you are made to follow on your running course.
As with any workout, remember to take things slowly and steadily.
“This will give your body time to adapt to the new stimulus, which in turn allows you to work harder in the future,” Handreck says.


The benefits
“The main kicker working in favour of Wii Fit is that those who lead a sedentary lifestyle and are rather inactive will burn a whole lot more calories than usual, which can be very useful in raising your daily energy expenditure,” Handreck says.
For those who struggle to get off the couch or for those who find gyms and exercising outdoors intimidating, Wii Fit Plus offers an easy alternative to build your daily activity level in the privacy and convenience of your own home.
Studies have suggested that active video games are particularly helpful when working towards health and fitness goals, especially among children, adolescents and young adults.
One study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics examined the physiological and metabolic responses of Wii’s high-impact exercise activity – boxing. Results showed it was an exercise that stimulated physiological and metabolic responses matching those of a brisk treadmill walk among study participants.


The risks
While improvements have been made to enable users to customise their workout routine, the program still lacks an individualised approach, which Handreck says is the main downside to the program.
“It is a very generic, one-size-fits-all video game and for this reason I maintain that it be used as an aside to a structured, balanced health regime,” he says.

This flaw can also be seen in the program’s main monitoring device, the BMI measure, which for some users may be inaccurate in that it doesn’t measure weight specific to the user’s body type.
“It can deduce that a short athlete with a muscular build is ‘obese’, whereas a taller sedentary person with low muscle tone can be deemed ‘healthy’,” Handreck says.

Studies have also suggested active video games demand significantly less physical activity than the real sport or exercise, which are performed at a greater intensity and length in the real world.
A study published in the US journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise assessed the energy expenditure of adults while playing active video games. Twelve men and women performed 68 activities from Wii Sports and Wii Fit Plus, spending eight minutes on each activity. Of the games examined, only 22 were classified to be of moderate intensity and none were regarded as high-impact or vigorous.

“It will take more than five or 10 minutes of hula-hooping, balancing and plank holds to melt away some body fat,” Handreck says. “The fat loss equation reads that energy expenditure must be greater than energy intake.”
Consequently, it’s important to treat Wii Fit Plus as a fitness ‘tool’, not a fitness ‘solution’. Once you’ve got this straight, let the hula-hooping, flying and fun begin! c