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How many calories do you burn playing the average Wii game?

Wii Sports makes active motion entertaining. Some people use Wii as a fitness program. See more video game system pictures.
Robyn Beck/Getty Images

When you play Wii Tennis, it's difficult to not swing the wireless controller with the same ferocity that you would on the courts. Many a player has experienced the resulting pain of the "Wii elbow" or the flying Wii remote that smashes into walls. In fact, it isn't too difficult to work up a sweat with the Nintendo Wii, especially if you're playing tennis or boxing. So what if you replaced your gym membership with a Wii? Would you see results?

Computer programmer Mickey DeLorenzo did. DeLorenzo put himself on a Wii fitness regimen for six weeks in December 2006, dubbing it the "Wii Sports Experiment." Tracking his results online, DeLorenzo reported that he lost 9 pounds (4 kilograms) and 3 inches from his waist just by integrating a half hour of Wii activity every day -- no dieting or additional exercise included. During these workouts, DeLorenzo emphasizes that he swung or punched, depending on the game, as hard as possible to maximize his results. According to his calculations using a calorie measurement tool made by BioTrainer, he burned:

  • 125 calories in 15 minutes of Boxing
  • 92 calories in 15 minutes of Tennis
  • 77 calories in 15 minutes of Bowling[source: Wiinintendo.net]

­­A small study of 13 children conducted by a professor at Liverpool John Moores University in Britain in February 2007 found that participants burn about 150 calories per hour playing Wii [source: BBC]. Although this calorie count is lo­wer than DeLorenzo's, it may be attributable to DeLorenzo's conscious effort to amplify his moves. Nevertheless, the study also highlighted that with an average weekly playing time of 12.2 hours, children could burn a maximum of 1,830 extra calories per week.

Given these results, the upcoming Wii Fit game, set for a U.S. release on May 19, 2008, holds promise for people hoping to shed pounds through "exergaming." The Wii Fit uses a balance board that measures players' weight and body mass index, and the Wii controller has a suite of games that focus on aerobics, yoga, balance and muscle conditioning. To learn more about the Wii Fit, read How the Wii Works.

Is exergaming the wave of the future? Will people soon trade in their boring treadmills for Wii consoles? Let's evaluate how the Wii stands up to other active video games and -- gasp -- real exercise.

Using Wii for Exercise

Dance Dance Revolution and other active video games have similar calorie-burning results as Wii games.
Dance Dance Revolution and other active video games have similar calorie-burning results as Wii games.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

A study that was, ironically, funded by Nintendo's U.K. marketing arm, burst the bubble of many people who were placing all their fitness eggs in the Wii basket. Entitled "Comparison of energy expenditure in adolescents playing new generation computer games," the study revealed that while Wii Sports games resulted in greater energy expenditures compared to inactive video games, the overall differences were negligible [source: Neale]. The weekly calories burned on the Wii were only 2 percent higher than with the stationary Xbox 360 game "Project Gotham Racing." In addition, energy spent during the active video gaming did not meet physical fitness standards established for adolescents.

In 2006, before the Wii console release, the Mayo Clinic found that other video games that require physical activity also burn more calories than sedentary ones. Mayo Clinic researchers examined heart rates of youth sitting down while playing video games with the heart rates of youth playing Dance Dance Revolution and EyeToy video games, which both require vigorous movement. For those two active games, participants exhausted 68 percent and 40 percent more energy, respectively, above resting heart rate [source: Lannigham-Foster]. That translates to three to five times more calories burned than sitting watching television or playing a stationary video game.

Ben Kuchera, writer for the gaming Web site ArsTechnica, created his own video game experiment, playing Dance Dance Revolution, EyeToy, Yourself Fitness and Wii video games. Using a combination of the four games for a half-hour a day, along with improved eating habits, Kuchera dropped 20 pounds in two months. Interestingly, Kuchera found that the Wii wasn't as conducive to vigorous exercise because unless you really want a workout, the controller will work with gentle flicks of the wrist [source: Kuchera].

Games aside, how does the Wii match up to actually going outside to a tennis court or hopping into a boxing ring? Can the video games cut it against live sports?

In short, no. According to calorie estimates from the Mayo Clinic, you burn about twice the calories in tennis, boxing and golf when you do it the real world. Bowling, however, almost matches DeLorenzo's calorie count, with around 208 calories burned in an hour of Wii bowling and 219 calories at the bowling alley. Also, considering that people burn around 60 calories per hour resting and 100 calories per hour typing, the 150 calories used with an hour of Wii play, as found with the Liverpool study, isn't much of a boost.

Nevertheless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a "moderate amount of daily physical activity," whether that's brisk walking or jogging. Against this standard, putting your all into Wii Sports boxing or tennis for 20 minutes or so probably fits the bill. Just like any exercise program, you get out what you put in. And since more than half of American adults don't get enough physical activity [source: Centers for Disease Control], the Wii could hold more potential than some studies suggest.

For other ways to get fit and maintain a healthy lifestyle, go to the links on the next page.

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Sources:

  • BBC News. "Computer Games 'burn up calories'." Feb. 19, 2007. (March 27, 2008) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6376637.stm
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Physical Activity for Everyone." Updated March 26, 2008. (March 31, 2008) http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/physical/everyone/recommendations/index.htm
  • DeLorenzo, Mickey. "Wii Sports Experiment." (March 26, 2008)http://wiinintendo.net/2007/01/15/wii-sports-experiment-results/
  • Kohler, Chris. "Diary: One Week Playing Wii Fit." Wired Blog Network. March 4, 2008. (March 27, 2008) http://blog.wired.com/games/2008/03/diary-one-week.html
  • Kuchera, Ben. "Breaking Down the Games." ArsTechnica. Jan. 16, 2007. (March 26, 2008) http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/gettingfit.ars/4
  • Lanningham-Foster, Lorraine. "Energy Expenditure of Sedentary Screen Time Compared With Active Screen Time for Children." Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dec. 1, 2006. (March 27, 2008)http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/118/6/e1831 ?maxt%20%20%20%20%20%20%20oshow=&HITS=10&hits= 10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Lorraine+Lanningham-Foster
  • Linde, Aaron. "Study: Wii gaming no substitute for exercise." Dec. 21, 2007. Ars Technica. (March 27, 2008)­http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20071221-study-wii-gaming-no-substitute-for-exercise-fatso.html
  • Neale, Todd. "Even Active Video Games Not Good Enough for Kids' Fitness." MedPage Today. Dec. 20, 2007. (March 27, 2008)http://www.medpagetoday.com/PrimaryCare/ExerciseFitness/tb/7775
  • Schmidt, Tracy Samantha. "Is the Wii Really Good for Your Health?" TIME Magazine. Feb. 1, 2007. (March 27, 2008) http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1584697,00.html
  • Warren, Jamin. "A Wii Workout: When Videogames Hurt." Nov. 25, 2006. (March 27, 2008) http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB116441076273232312-3nPirhZn20_L2P7m_ROtFUkh6yA_20071124.html