Can't get to the gym? Just turn on your TV! At least, that seems to be the promise of the exergaming world, in which a game of tennis or a Zumba class is ever-available in your living room. But just how effective are these games compared to their real-life counterparts?
"Something is better than nothing when it comes to physical activity," says Jim White, registered dietician, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, "but don't fool yourself: these games are nothing like the real thing."
That's not to say they're a waste of time -- far from it. "In comparison to other sedentary video games, Wii Fit Plus Aerobics and Zumba Fitness, for example, are excellent alternatives, but when compared to traditional aerobics or Zumba, they fall short," explains White. "On the spectrum of video games and regular exercise, these games fall somewhere in the middle. Their goal is not necessarily to help you lose weight or get fit, but to get you moving and hopefully get you interested in the activities you are acting out."
In most instances, the traditional activity (step, boxing, running) burns twice as many calories as the exer-version, says White. But exergames do have some benefits: "These games are usually good for working on balance, coordination and agility," he says.
Plus, says White, the games are good if you can't get out of the house, and they're just plain fun! Also, he points out, exergames can provide motivation with scores you can try to beat. "This helps with discipline and tracking results, and is very good for creating friendly competition between friends and family," says White.
However, says White, exergames generally do not equate to actual fitness. "They require a low level of cardio and often can't discern if you are doing a movement exactly correct," he says. "There is little carryover between games and actual fitness abilities, especially with Wii Sports -- little more than a flick of the wrist is needed in some instances."
When it comes to comparing calories burned, White explains that, in general, you burn 60 calories an hour at rest, 100 calories an hour typing and 150 calories per hour on the average Wii game.
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