Many of us are focused on weight loss during the early months of the year, and while watching what you eat is the key to losing weight, exercise is important, too. But how do you exercise during those cold winter months when it’s difficult to get outside? Is there an easier option than getting into the car and driving to the gym? Can you get your exercise at home even when you’re snowed in?
Absolutely! Just like you can use technology to help you lose weight, you can use technology to get you moving. Playing interactive fitness games, or “exergaming,” is a fun way to get moving and burn calories, all in the comfort of the indoors.
What are Interactive Fitness Games?
Interactive fitness games are games that utilize technology for cardiovascular activities. They can be computer-based or connect to your television set through a video game console.
What are the Benefits?
One of the major benefits of interactive fitness games is their ease-of-use. The games are specifically designed to be simple and easy-to-understand. All you have to do is load the game, press play, and follow a preset routine or the instructions on the screen.
Exergaming can also be beneficial because it can be done from your home. There’s no need to rush to a gym or to a fitness class, and you can squeeze your exercise in at a time that’s convenient for you – morning, afternoon, or evening.
An additional bonus is that interactive fitness games can become a great family activity that children, teens, and even older adults can participate in. Having other people in the home who are excited can boost motivation and provide unlikely workout partners.
And the best benefit of all? When you’re having fun, it doesn’t even feel like exercise. The format of virtual games such as bowling, table tennis, and dancing make the interactive fitness games both competitive and fun. Upbeat music and learning new moves for dance routines also bring high energy to the workout and allow time to fly by.
Brands and Games Available
This system is one of the most popular “full-body gaming” systems available today. The system uses a motion-detecting sensor that tracks your movement and translates your real-life movement into movement in the game.
Some of the Kinect’s most popular interactive fitness games include Nike + Kinect Training, a training program that provides real-time feedback for exercise positions and movements. It provides different levels of activity and intensity for every level of fitness, and users of the Nike + FuelBand accelerometer can utilize with the game.
Kinect also offers dance fitness games, including Dance Central, a choreography game that teaches users different dance routines set to upbeat music. The game offers a workout mode which tracks the workout time and the number of calories burned.
Zumba Fitness, a game available for all the major gaming consoles, also offers a dance-based workout, providing more than 30 different routines modeled after the popular classes offered in gyms. An on-screen instructor guides up to four players through the fun and fast-paced routines.
And fans of the show The Biggest Loser will be happy to hear that The Biggest Loser: Ultimate Workout is also available on Kinect. The game includes healthy recipes, a calorie tracker, a body analyzer to track progress, a mode that allows users to record a Video Diary, just like on the show, and optional equipment such as resistance bands, stability ball, and free weights to enhance the workout experience.
Another popular interactive gaming system is the Sony Playstation 3 (PS3) MOVE, which utilizes a handheld controller that transmits motion signals to a sensor.
The PS3 MOVE system offers simulation games such as Sports Champions, which allows players to engage in disc golf, gladiator dueling, beach volleyball, archery, table tennis, and bocce. While these simulation games are not specifically aimed at fitness, activities that require constant movement, like table tennis, can allow participants to raise their heart rate and build up a good sweat, all while having fun.
Another fun exergame is EA Sports Active 2, which is available on the PS3 MOVE as well as the Kinect and Wii. It includes 70 exercises and activities designed by certified trainers to fit within a progressive 9-week program, an on-screen, real-time, heart rate monitor, and it allows you to track progress on the internet as well as download new workouts and exercises.
Parents of younger children may already be familiar with the Nintendo Wii gaming system, which also utilizes movement-based gameplay using a motion-detecting controller. The Wii was one of the first systems to embrace interactive fitness with Wii Fit, a game that uses a balance board to perform more than 40 activities for all ages and intensity levels, including yoga and strength training. The Wii Fit allows users to check daily progress, set goals, and check their “Wii Fit Age,” a measurement based on BMI and balance tests.
For individuals without gaming consoles, a variety of Dance Dance Revolution games are available for the computer using a USB-attachable soft dance pad. The game includes a workout mode, that requires players to step on up, down, right, and left arrows in a choreographed rhythm to upbeat dance music.
Cost & Set-Up
New gaming consoles can range from $150 to $400. A new Xbox 360 with Kinect can range between $200 and $300. A Sony Playstation 3 console with MOVE costs approximately $250 to $400 depending on the configuration. The Nintendo Wii ranks among the most affordable, with a cost of $150 for the console alone.
Games prices average between $30 to $50 but used games as low as $10 can be found at many retailers, including big box stores, specialty video game retailers, and online retailers.
Games and dance pads for the PC games such as Dance Dance Revolution may be purchased for approximately $100 in stores and online.
What to Look For
When selecting an interactive fitness game, look for one that elevates your heart rate. Many games, while seeming to require activity, only require arm movements. You can’t get a workout without getting your heart going, so if you can perform the activities from a sedentary position, they are not going to be effective.
Also look for games that engage the lower body as well as the upper body. Getting the entire body moving is optimal for raising your heart rate, and it works out different parts of your body.
And look for games that include a wide variety of activities. This will help keep things fresh and prevent boredom from repeating the same activity over and over again. In addition, continuous repetitive motion raises the risk of injury, so variety is key to keeping your workout fresh and injury-free.
Benefits of Interactive Fitness Games
The best part of interactive fitness games is that they’re fun – for everyone. Deconditioned and obese individuals will find it fun to play and gain aerobic movement out of the games. Seniors can enjoy the gentle movements of bowling and golfing or engage in activities such as yoga or strength training. Youth become a part of the game and don’t just turn into vegetables in front of the TV. Everyone can burn some calories and learn some good health habits from the fitness games, and in many cases, it is just too hard to pass up joining when watching others play.
Drawbacks of Interactive Fitness Games
However, some games are simply not vigorous enough to replace working out. Injuries may also occur from misuse or continued repetitive motion. And becoming bored with the same routine is also a hazard. Still, these can be prevented by choosing games that include heart rate monitors, calculate calories burned, and track progress, by carefully reading instructions and varying the workouts as necessary, and by finding games that offer new downloadable content to vary the routines.
While they cannot and should not constitute your entire workout regimen, interactive fitness games can be a terrific back-up plan to get moving when you’re unable to get out to workout. They can also be a step in the right direction – the catalyst you need to get started on your fitness. It looks like working out can be all fun and games, after all!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.