May 17, 2010 -- The American Heart Association (AHA) has given its seal of approval to Nintendo's Wii, Wii Fit Plus, and Wii Sports Resort. The AHA's "heart check" logo -- which is normally only seen on healthy foods -- will now appear on these virtual exercise or active game systems. The new partnership will also include a research summit and a $1.5 million donation from Nintendo to the AHA.
While video games tend to get a bad rap when it comes to their role in fostering the obesity epidemic, the advent of virtual exercise games such as Nintendo's Wii changed the playing field by encouraging what experts now call active play. Nintendo has sold 29 million Wii consoles since the system debuted in 2006.
Seventy percent of Americans do not get the recommended amounts of physical activity each week. The AHA-Nintendo partnership aims to help overcome some of the barriers to regular physical activity such as the lack of time to exercise and the lack of enjoyment in fitness. It is designed to "meet people where they are and seek unique opportunities to be successful," explains AHA President Clyde Yancy, MD, the medical director of Baylor University medical center and chief of cardiothoracic transplantation at Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute in Houston.
"It's not about joining a fancy gym or training for a marathon, it's about accumulating physical activity throughout the day," says Timothy Church, MD, PhD, MPH, the director of the Laboratory of Preventive Medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., and the chairman of the AHA's physical activity committee.
Exercise in the Comfort of Your Home
Adults need 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. Active play or virtual exercise may be the right fit for "adults who are just beginning and need instruction and those who just don't want to go to the gym," he says. "They can now start in the comfort of own home. This is their personal trainer."
"This is fun. I play with my kids," Church says. "It's always going to be a balance; kids need exercise before school, at school, and after school."
"If these devices get people moving and start to build their physical competency, it's pointing them in the right direction," says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist at theAmerican Council on Exercise, a nonprofit group based in San Diego that is aimed at promoting active lifestyles. "It's a start and we will take it."
Developing physical competency and confidence "can be a huge catalyst of change, so it's a good partnership and a good idea," he says. But active play is "not a replacement for a traditional exercise program. It is a complement or a launch pad that will bridge the gap between doing nothing and starting a traditional exercise program."
Sheryl Wilson, a certified personal trainer and owner of Fitnotic, a New York City-based pre- and postnatal fitness company, agrees. "Although using Wii Fit is a healthier choice than sitting on the couch and snacking while staring at the TV, it still doesn't come close to getting up and engaging in real-life activities," she says.
Take Wii Fit Hula Hoop, for example. "Those playing the game swing their bodies around in a circle, sometimes putting themselves into awkward angles [and] not only do they miss out on the fun of actual hula hooping, but they're not provided with the core strengthening and total body workout that real life hula hooping provides."