Wii Fit<sup>TM</sup> has become a popular option for exercise, but does it actually provide any of the benefits typically associated with exercise? A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR) aimed to determine just that.
The study, Changes in Physical Activity and Fitness after 3 Months of Home Wii FitTM, aimed to answer this question by providing a Wii FitTM to eight families for a three-month period. In order to replicate the typical purchasing and use experience, the families were simply the Wii FitTM, but were not given any instruction or a set program to do.
It should be noted that the study is limited in size, with only eight families for a total of 21 people in the sample size. Beyond that, I believe it is a fairly well developed study (note that I tend to be very critical of studies related to exercise, so that should be interpreted as high praise).
Each individual was given an accelerometer to wear for five days prior to testing as well as five days after test this was used to measure daily activity.
They were each run through a series of tests to determine:
- Body mass index (BMI)
- Percent body fat (using a bioelectrical impedance analyzer)
- balance (surprisingly on two feet)
- flexibility (sit and reach test)
- strength (push-ups)
- aerobic fitness (VO2max using the Bruce Ramp Protocol)
The study found no improvements, except aerobic fitness improved slightly for kids. Other than that, weight (+0.2 kg), BMI (+0.1), strength (-1.4 push-ups), and aerobic fitness levels (-1.2 peak VO2) were slightly worse (but by less than the margin of error so caution should be taken in extrapolating that). Percent body fat (-0.2%), flexibility (+1.4 cm), and balance (+0.3 eyes open, +1.6 with eyes closed) increased marginally, but again by much less than the margin of error.
Additionally, the daily physical activity levels of participants was slightly lower after the test period than before both in terms of the amount of moderate (-5.2 min/day) and vigorous (-5.3 min/day) physical activity. As above, the margin of error is higher than the difference.
The study notes that 3 months has been shown to be more than enough to elicit improvements in other programs, geared at flexibility, strength, or balance, or body fat reduction. That suggests that the issue is not that the study was too short.
The other interesting result was that the the families used the Wii significantly more during the first six weeks (21.5 min. per day) than they did during the second six weeks (3.9 min. per day). My interpretation is that the Wii Fit becomes like any other self-directed exercise program: Once the novelty of a “new workout program” wears off, exercise levels drop off significantly. The low usage level in the second half of the study undoubtedly is a big part of why the results were so poor: you have to actually DO the exercise for it to be effective.
While the detailed study results are limited by the size of the study, the lack of improvement in any measurable fitness metric suggests that you probably shouldn’t replace your gym membership, personal trainer, evening walk, weekend cycle, or your soccer league spot, with a Wii FitTM. Now if you want a fun game to play at home, I hear the Wii is great. Just make sure you leave time to get some exercise.
Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a personal trainer and fitness nerd (who is a bit behind in her Journal reading) in Ottawa, Canada.