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Can You Really Get Fit With Wii Exercise Games?

Experts weigh in on the value of video game exercise.

Fitness Games: Entertainment With Activity continued...

"We hope that Wii will encourage users to be more physically active as well as spark a discussion about fitness in the household," Franklin says. "As with any other exercise, the effect has many variables, depending on the person who is working out and the level of activity."

Bryant says Wii Fit isn't likely to replace regular trips to the gym -- especially for those who are already fit.

"It's great for the person who hasn't been doing a whole lot," he says. "But for individuals who exercise quite a bit, it isn't going to be a huge challenge."

However, he adds, "I do think it has the ability, if you hang in there long enough, to be a bit more challenging for those who are already engaging in physical activity. It's not a substitute, but it could certainly be a nice complement to a regular exercise program."

ACE plans to release a study in June on the calorie expenditures of each of the original Wii sports games. The study will show, for example, that playing Wii golf burns about 3 to 3 1/2 calories per minute, Bryant tells WebMD. Walking a real course and hitting an actual ball, by comparison, burns twice that many.

Likewise, a friendly game of tennis burns about 8 calories a minute, while Wii tennis burns about 5. That's not bad for a game, Bryant says, but it still represents almost a 50% difference. The study concluded that boxing is by far the most strenuous of the original Wii games, burning as many as 7 calories per minute, compared to 10 to 10 1/2 for actual sparring.

"I've watched people play the Wii boxing, and they're just wiped out," says Bryant. "There's a lot of local muscle fatigue that occurs, but the caloric expenditure doesn't come close to how intensely you feel you're working. That's 210 calories for 30 minutes -- that's not a whole heck of a lot. The load isn't enough to count as strength training, but it is enough to count as muscular endurance."

Can Exercise Video Games Ever Replace the Gym?

Joseph Donnelly, EdD, an exercise physiologist and a professor of health sport and exercise science at the University of Kansas Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management, is skeptical about lab studies of calorie burn during video game exercises.

"You can take someone and stick them in a lab and get them to play games and expend a certain amount of energy, thus creating the circumstances whereby the energy expenditure appears to be promising," he says. "Yet when these things are translated to the general population, it's not so good."

Donnelly also points to the downward spiral of physical activity in this country, and says that all of the exercise recommendations are currently being ratcheted up -- not down. The CDC, Institute of Medicine, and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), for example, are re-examining their guidelines to determine whether they should increase the recommended amounts of physical activity.

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