Part of the fun of video games is imagining yourself with the physique and athleticism of Lara Croft or the overripe machismo of Kratos. Unfortunately, after too many hours of Tomb Raider or God of War, you may end up bearing more resemblance to QBert. Video games can get your heart racing, but the workout is generally limited to your thumbs – or your wrists if you have a Wii U. However, if you’re ready to rise from the couch and take charge of your fitness, the best video game consoles offer exercise games that are entertaining as well.
Many people roll their eyes at the thought that video games can help you stay healthy, but studies by the University of Calgary Exergaming Research Center, the American Council on Exercise and the University of Massachusetts Department of Exercise and Health Sciences agree that fitness games on the video game console can be as effective as a regular workout in a gym or a moderate half-hour walk. It’s all about intensity.
Let’s use a mile walk as a comparison. How many calories you burn depends more on your weight than the time you take. In general, you burn 100 calories per mile if you weigh 180 pounds; it lowers to 65 calories per mile for a 120-pound person. According to a chart on WebMD, a golf video game burns 93 calories in 30 minutes – assuming you are actually playing the game as it should be and not just sitting on the couch waving the Wiimote, of course.
Dance games and boxing burn up to 160 calories in 30 minutes. Serious workout games like Zumba Fitness for the Wii and Xbox 360 can help you really work up a sweat without the embarrassment of floundering around in front of total strangers who inevitably know the moves right off.
Speaking of which, many fitness and workout games – even dance games – watch your movements and reward you when you have the positions just right. Each has its own pros and cons:
The Wii U uses a balance board and motion controller to gauge your motions. It’s not as accurate as either the PlayStation Move or the Xbox Kinect, but the balance board gives it an advantage by helping you track your weight. Plus, studies have found that exercise programs using the balance board specifically help develop lower limb muscles strength and – surprise – greater balance. While the study looked at overweight youth, balance is an issue for older adults, making this video game console a good choice for those who need work in these areas.
The PlayStation Move also uses a motion controller with sensors like the Wii. The motion controller is more advanced and thus more accurate. If you already have a PlayStation, then the fitness bundle gives you everything you need. Be sure to get two wands, however, as some games require both.
The Xbox Kinect is by far the best video game console for fitness games because the Kinect sensor can track your whole body’s movements without the use of a wand, and the games are often designed to give you a representation of your body on the screen so you can check your movements. It’s too bad the latest Xbox system is no longer built for it. You can connect your Kinect via a USB, but unless Microsoft has a change of heart, it’s likely this system is on the way out. So treat those games with care!
The next generation of video gaming – virtual reality – makes it hard to stay on the couch. With games offering 360 motion and the feeling of being there, you’re going to want to move around. With cameras as well as motion controllers, these games are the most accurate of all. Of course, they also take up more room.
If you’re ready to get serious about health and fitness, there’s no reason to dump your Xbox for X-factor. There are plenty of options that, if used correctly, can give you just as good a workout. And if you’re really not interested in playing The Biggest Loser Ultimate Workout, go for a band simulator. Seriously: A study by Dr. Elizabeth Lyons, PhD, of the University of Texas found that fake drumming or fake strumming in a band simulator can burn 150 calories an hour. Throw in some headbanging and sweet poses, and you can ramp that up while playing Guitar Hero.
Just don’t tell Kratos.