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Video games: Not just for couch potatoes

A few years ago, video-game enthusiasts were considered couch potatoes. Today, many gamers are getting into shape thanks to systems like Nintendo’s Wii Fit and Kinect for Xbox 360. These systems have players stand and pantomime the moves of their on-screen virtual players.

Research presented at an American Heart Association (AHA) conference showed that the energy expended when playing about one-third of the Wii Fit and Wii Sports games—including aerobics and resistance exercises, tennis, boxing and baseball—is equivalent to moderate-intensity exercise, roughly equal to walking at a 3-mph pace. Other studies have shown that players using Wii Fit regularly could improve their strength and balance.

The AHA recommends that people get about 2½ hours of moderate-intensity exercise per week to help prevent obesity and heart disease, but almost 70 percent of Americans don’t get that much physical activity. Many people say that they don’t have time or dislike exercise. People who use Wii Fit, however, may not have those problems; video-game enthusiasts don’t have trouble finding time to play because it feels like fun, not like exercise. A recent British study compared the enjoyment levels of Wii Fit players to exercisers using gym treadmills and found that the video-game users enjoyed what they were doing more than the treadmill users.

To spread this message, the AHA and Nintendo have created a joint website,, which informs people about the heart-healthy benefits of regularly using active-play video games.

If you’re a homebody and have enjoyed Pac-Man or Super Mario Bros. in the past, this form of exercise might be right for you. You don’t have to visit the gym, and you can increase the fun by getting family members or friends to play along. Stick with these games long enough and you could lose weight, lower your blood-pressure and cholesterol levels—an impressive score for a video game.