Exercise, Lose Weight With 'Exergaming'

New 'active' video games combine body movement with gaming skill.

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 19, 2011
4 min read

Want to hula your way to health in your own living room? How about dancing, boxing, or biking your way to a better body?

If you've got a video game console like the Kinect for Xbox 360, PlayStationMove, or the Wii Fit -- sales of which are projected to reach $40 billion by 2015 -- you may be able to do just that.

The trend is called exergaming, short for exercise games, and it's kicking the world of video game up a notch -- literally.

With kung fu, boxing, biking, and dance software, the goal of many of today's popular video games is to get you off the couch and on the way to a pulse-pounding workout. The question is: do they work?

The University of Calgary Exergaming Research Centre, the American Council on Exercise, and the University of Massachusetts Department of Exercise and Health Sciences all offer a qualified yes.

When used at intermediate or high intensity, exergaming can indeed improve fitness -- though some exercise games make that easier than others. A moderate 3 mph walk burns about four calories a minute, or 120 calories per half hour. How do exergames stack up?


Calorie burn/minute

Calorie burn/30 minutes



















Again, it's all about intensity. Nearly any exergame can help you get fit if you make an effort and "really work it," says Bryan Haddock, DrPH, a professor in the department of kinesiology at California State University, San Bernardino. So what is there to work with?

There are a few well-known players in the exercise game field, with an important upstart emerging. The contenders are:

  • Kinect for Xbox 360: With multi- and single-player games that include boxing, volleyball, kung fu, track and field, soccer, and more, the Kinect is hands-free, using a sensor in the game console to track movement, then translate it into game play.
  • PlaystationMove: Employing a camera and a motion controller remote, this gaming console offers exercise game titles for single and multi-player play, including beach volleyball, disc golf, archery, dance, table tennis, kickboxing, and more.
  • Nintendo Wii Fit: Featuring multi- and single-player games, including skateboarding, hula, kung fu, skiing, dance games, and more, the Wii Fit uses a balance board and remote, both of which translate real life movement into game play.
  • Smart Phones: Exergames for smart phones like the Android and iPhone are still in their infancy, but Ernie Medina Jr., DrPH, a preventive care specialist in California and self-described "exergame evangelist" sees a definite trend. "Instead of being stuck inside with a TV and a console, these games get you playing outdoors."

Medina reports on testing a treasure hunt-style game in Boston. "We walked two hours all over downtown Boston," he tells WebMD, "going from one landmark to another, looking for answers" to clues provided by the game, which then tracked how far the gamers had walked. "It was mobile, it was exercise, it was a game -- all combined in one."

It's that feeling that you're playing a game -- not working out -- which is at the heart of exergaming's popularity. "We look at exergames as stealth exercise," says Medina. Whether a player fires up a dance game or a boxing app, they're "getting exercise without realizing it," Medina says. And studies show that given the choice between active or passive exercise games, players tend to choose active ones.

But do gamers stick with this 'stealth exercise' any better than they do more conventional workouts?

Well, "even video games can get boring after awhile," says Medina, who thinks a key to long-term compliance is creating exergame leagues, tournaments, and scholarships, just as we have for swimming, running, and other activities.

"We want to keep the games interesting and entertaining," says Medina, who is aiding in the development of the National Active Gaming League. "Once you have meets, team mates, and competitions kids -- and adults -- become a lot more invested and, as with conventional exercise, less likely to give up."

The people critical of exergames haven't played them, Medina says, adding that after giving your all to a bicycle or dance game, "I can guarantee you you'll be sore the next day."

Although the pros acknowledge that a set of video game tennis won't give you the same workout as the real thing, they do agree that exergaming can be an important -- and enjoyable -- part of an overall aerobic exercise program.

"Exergaming has the potential to be a safe and effective tool for maintaining or improving cardiovascular fitness," if the right games and options are selected, write researches at the American Council on Exercise.

Whether it's boxing, biking, or dancing games, the conclusion on exergaming by those who should know -- health and wellness professionals -- is this: It sure beats sitting around.