Wii Fit Exercises May Help COPD Patients

Wii Workouts May Help Patients Improve Muscle Tone, Fitness, Researchers Say

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on May 16, 2011

May 16, 2011 -- People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may benefit from exercising at home with Nintendo’s Wii Fit video game, a new study finds.

The video game may make working out more enjoyable and thus encourage the type of physical activities that help people with breathing problems, Connecticut researchers say.

They recruited five volunteers with stable COPD. Before the patients exercised with a Wii, the scientists performed tests to gauge their top workloads and heart rates, plus oxygen consumption levels and other respiratory factors.

The Wii Fit device, which has been heavily marketed by Nintendo as a mixture of fitness and fun, allows users to view images on a video screen while standing on a sensitive board that sends electronic signals to the computer.

In the study, patients were asked to run in place, do some upper arm exercises, step in place, and maneuver on an obstacle course. Each exercise was done for three to five minutes; then the researchers retested the patients.

Exercising With Wii Fit

At the end of the exercise routine, heart rate was at 71% of the maximum predicted value. Oxygen consumption was at 86% of the maximum predicted for the patients.

Researchers say maximum predicted values reflect the absolute upper limit of what a patient can achieve through exercise and is based on health, age, and other factors.

Most exercise programs aim to achieve between 60% and 80% of maximum values to be safe and effective.

“Our study showed that COPD patients exercised at a relatively high percent of their maximum during three to five minutes of specified Wii Fit exercises, indicating the Wii Fit may be a reasonable home-based exercise regimen for COPD patients,” Jeffrey Albores, MD, of the University of Connecticut Health Center, says in a news release.

Exercise Aids Hearts and Lungs of COPD Patients

Regular exercise helps COPD patients by increasing overall muscle tone and improving cardiopulmonary fitness.

But getting COPD patients to exercise on a regular basis at their homes can sometimes be a difficult proposition, especially when tolerance for physical activity may be limited. So Albores and colleagues set out to find a way to encourage exercise by making it fun.

“In order for exercise to be sustained in the long-term, the type of exercise should be agreeable to the patient,” Albores says. “In this study, we aimed to find out the level of intensity of the Wii Fit exercises in patients with COPD.”

The Nintendo Wii Fit interactive device was introduced in 2007 and includes exercise activities and games, including yoga, balance and strength training activities, and aerobic workouts.

The results of the study were encouraging.

Albores says preliminary data indicate that COPD patients “performed at 60% to 70% of their maximum during three to five minutes of specified Wii Fit exercises, reflecting a relatively high percent of their maximum. This is comparable to what we would expect to see with relatively low-intensity classroom calisthenics.”

The study also found that lower-extremity Wii Fit exercises approximated 70% to 80% of the benefit for low-intensity upper extremity exercises, and 50% to 60% of for upper-extremity exercises.

“Because the lower extremities have bigger muscle groups, they approximate a higher percentage of the maximal values as compared to the upper extremities,” Albores says.

The Wii Fit offers exercise options that are similar to those available in traditional rehabilitation centers, but Albores says more research is needed to determine if it increases a patient’s willingness to perform regular workouts at home.

“The video game system will provide COPD patients an adjunct to pulmonary rehabilitation by performing these interactive activity-promoting video game exercises in the home setting,” he says. “However, further studies are necessary to determine safety, adherence, and effectiveness of the Wii Fit exercises in COPD patients.”

Show Sources


News release, American Thoracic Society.

American Thoracic Society International Conference, Denver, May 13-18, 2011.

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