The feeling of opening my copy of Wii Sports on Christmas morning in 2009 was indeed like no other. The hype for the Wii console was at its all-time high, and for a family of four kids, there was truly no better way to incite a little competition (and get us off the couch during school holidays).
This piece originally appeared on Kotaku Australia on April 29, 2022. It has been retimed as a weekend read.
Anyone who’s played games like Wii Sports and Wii Fit will be well aware of their potential to get you working up a sweat and a half. From stimulating knock-outs in boxing matches to hitting a home run out of the park in baseball games, it can actually feel like you’re engaging in some good, old fashioned exercise.
Because of this, I’m sure plenty of gamers have posed the question: can playing simulation games actually replace a workout? According to current guidelines set by the Department of Health, adults should aim to get a total of 2.5-5 hours of moderate activity and 1.25-2.5 hours of vigorous exercise weekly — surely a bit of gaming could count for that?
To dive into the idea, we had a chat with Dr Chris Robinson — Medical Director of men’s health platform Pilot — about whether getting your Mii to work up a sweat can benefit your health in the long run.
What are the benefits of playing movement-based games like Wii Sports?
We’re all aware that sitting — whether in an office chair or while gaming — for extended hours isn’t the greatest thing for our bodies. But, given you are up and moving around, according to Dr Chris, games like Wii Sports can be an effective tool for improving aspects of health-related physical fitness. However, there isn’t conclusive evidence on the matter.
“Active gaming has the potential to serve as a fitness tool, enabling users to ideally burn calories and increase activity levels whilst providing an enjoyable experience at the same time,” said Chris.
“Current evidence suggests that movement-based games have the potential to improve health through an increase in physical activity. However, it seems that this potential is frequently underutilised and not yet fully understood.”
Dr Chris also highlighted that Wii-based exercise has also been found to improve the physical fitness, functional mobility and motor proficiency of adults with Down Syndrome, with consistent game-play assisting in aerobic capacity and lower limb strength.
Can playing games like Wii sports replace low-intensity workouts?
While Dr Chris wouldn’t recommend replacing a gym session or a social soccer game once you pick up a copy of Switch Sports, there is evidence around how active video games can prove effective in some aspects of weight loss.
“In a recent systematic review with meta-analysis, active video games were more effective than no or minimal intervention in reducing young peoples’ BMI in the short and intermediate-term. Additionally, active gaming was more effective in reducing body weight compared with no or minimal intervention at the intermediate follow-up,” said Dr Chris.
While he stated that more research is needed in the area, there are current studies investigating how trainers and fitness professionals could utilise active gaming to achieve health and fitness-related benefits for their clients. For example, a 2012 study concluded that college students have the “potential to surpass exercise intensities when performing a conventional standard for moderate-intensity exercise whilst playing Nintendo Wii Fit ‘Free Run’, with self-selected intensity.”
“According to this particular study, the authors concluded that Wii Fit “Free Run” could potentially act as an alternative to traditional moderate-intensity aerobic exercise in fulfilling the American College of Sports Medicine requirements for physical activity,” added Dr Chris.
How can you best ensure you take care of your physical health whilst gaming?
While there is limited evidence-based guidelines for health whilst gaming, a 2018 cross-sectional study showed that more time spent weekend gaming was associated with “decreased probability of fulfilling physical activity recommendations, and increased time spent sitting whilst gaming was associated with higher obesity rates.”
While he noted that further study needs to be done in the area, Dr Chris recommends following the government’s exercise guidelines to maintain a healthy lifestyle while gaming.
So, overall, the short answer is no — marathon sessions of simulation games can’t replace the gym, but they’re better than nothing at all. If you are struggling to stay on top of your health routine or looking for advice on starting one, checking out platforms like Pilot can help with everything from incorporating gaming into a healthy lifestyle to levelling up your mental and physical health in general.