This Christmas brought an unexpected new training tool into my life. I am of a young enough age that I grew up with video games and computers as a regular component of my life. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I have begun to introduce the wonderful world of video games to my five-year-old son, though I have taken care to not over-expose him, and I try to be choosy about what games we play together. Prior to the holidays, I attempted to convince my wife that a Nintendo Wii would be an acceptable way to both play games with he and my daughter (now 3), but also to keep them active at the same time given the interactive interface of many Wii games. I don’t know that my feeble attempts at persuasion ever really worked, but needless to say, a Nintendo Wii now resides under the TV in my basement. I have to say that I am really impressed by the responsiveness of the wii controllers, and they bring an incredible amount of fun into the gaming experience. Over Christmas break, I had a blast playing Wii Sports with my family, and was amazed to see my son quickly grab the highest score in the bowling mini-game. However, the one thing I didn’t really consider when initially looking at the Wii was that it could become a fitness accessory for me as well.
My first impression after playing Wii Sports was that it actually provided a pretty good workout, and this is coming from someone who regularly runs 20-30 miles per week in the Spring through Fall. A few rounds of Wii Boxing had me breaking quite a sweat, and I quickly developed a liking for Wii Tennis. I was amazed at how sore my arms felt after the first few days of playing these games. This piqued my curiosity, and I began to look on the Internet for sources of information about the potential fitness benefits of Wii based exercise. I found numerous sites with personal testimonials about successful weight loss on the Wii, and several had put together some basic stats about calories burned while playing the various games. I discovered the Wii Fit, which is essentially a set of games that utilizes a balance board and tracks your basic fitness stats (I had to have this!). I also found numerous people dismissing the Wii as a nice toy to get lazy people off the couch, but not a real fitness tool. This viewpoint was particularly prevalent among posters to some of the running bulletin boards that I read from time to time. Many highly active people can’t see how the Wii could really provide any true training value. So what is the truth – can the Wii really benefit your overall level of fitness? Will this only work for someone who is fairly inactive and using it as a first stab at exercising? Can a reasonably fit person derive any further benefit from training on the Wii?
All of these questions triggered my scientific mind and led me to decide that I had to conduct a little experiment. With my recently purchased heart rate monitor, the Wii, and a variety of Wii games, I had all of the tools that I needed. Combined with over a year and a half of experience tracking my fitness as a runner, I had a pretty good idea of what constituted a good workout. It was time to put the Wii to the test. I decided I would try to incorporate the Wii into my training for a Spring marathon. I would not use it as a replacement for running, but as a supplement. I’m not sure where this will take me, and I don’t have a firm plan for what I will do, but I hope to share anything that I learn that I think might be useful.