Exergaming is a term used for a video that incorporates exercise movement with a gamelike format such as bowling, tennis, or soccer, among others. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines exergaming as: “technology-driven physical activities, such as video game play, that require participants to be physically active or exercise in order to play the game.” The term is a combination of the words exercise and gaming; sometimes the two words are switched, forming the synonym gamercising. Exergaming is also called active gaming.
Exergaming is a form of exercise in which players blend an exercise regimen with a game activity (tracking body movement and movement response), for a fitness-oriented workout. A popular way to exercise with exergaming is on a modified exercise bike. Exergaming is sometimes described as “virtual exercise” however, exergaming generally relies on participant involvement with interactive technology, whereas “virtual exercise” may not always be interactive.
Exergaming can incorporate muscle movement and cardiovascular exercise in an enjoyable experience for participants. Players can exercise indoors (especially good during inclement weather) and can also compete with other players who may be virtual in nature. In addition, players are able to easily change from one game to another, preventing boredom, distraction, or displeasure due to repetition in their fitness regimen.
As of December 2016, no formal surveys were available to provide statistics as to how many people in North America have tried or presently practice exergaming. It is known, however, that children, young adults, and older adults enjoy the activity and entertainment of exergaming for fitness benefits at home and in many schools across the United States. Specifically, the ACSM states several benefits that users receive from participating in exergames. Among them are:
Exergaming was developed in the late 1980s as video games became popular. HighCycle and Virtual Racquetball, both developed by Autodesk, were two early types of video games that used rudimentary aspects of exergaming, such as head-mounted displays. In HighCycle, an individual on a stationary bicycle could race through a virtual landscape provided by a video. In 1986, what is often considered the first true exergame came in the form of Computrainer by Racer-Mate, which let a user of a road bike pedal through a virtual landscape while viewing cadence, speed, and other data generated on an attached screen. Most of the units were powered by the Commodore 64.
In the 1990s, VR Bike and VR Climber, a recumbent bike and step machine, respectively, both developed by CyberGear, came onto the commercial market. Various problems, such as faulty electronics, high purchase price, various maintenance costs, and operating difficulties, however, doomed both from the start. Tokyo's Komami corporation offered Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) in the late 1990s. DDR became a sensation, selling more than three million copies and bringing popularity to exergaming as health journalists reported the ability of exergame users to lose large amounts of weight.
The 2000s saw an upsurge in exergaming as many of the problems plaguing earlier exergames were solved in such games as Cat-Eye Game Bike (Cat Eye Fitness), Exertris Interactive Gaming Bike (Exertris), EyeToy: Kinetic (Nike Motionworks), Gamercize (Gamercize), and Wii Fit (Nintendo). Wii Fit, released in 2008, was developed by Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of other popular Nintendo games, including Mario and Donkey Kong. His inspiration for Wii Fit came when his wife brought home a new bathroom scale. Wii Fit became so effective at providing a good workout that many hospitals incorporated it into their rehabilitation programs.
In 2010, Microsoft introduced Kinect, a exergaming device that used motion-sensing technology to control the game (the user became the game controller with the use of spoken commands). Exergaming has come a long way since the late 1980s and is increasing in popularity in the latter half of the 2010s, due to better video-game graphics and the introduction of new games on mobile and tablet applications (apps). Many websites promote exergaming, such as the one at ExergameFitness.com . It states on one of its webpages: “Exergame Fitness is leading a new movement incorporating technology into fitness. We provide a new way to engage people in fitness, through gamification and technology. By doing this, we create socially engaging, supportive, and inviting fitness communities worldwide.”
As of 2016, the ACSM states that new exergames are being created each month as demand from young to older users increases. The organization predicts that as the industry continues to mature, exergaming will become even more popular.
Many exergames are now out in the marketplace, some made for using while watching a TV screen or a computer screen, some utilizing a platform or mat, and still others attached to exercise equipment such as exercise bikes. Exergaming at home using a television in one's living room is a popular choice.
Some exergame makers' products include Sony's PlayStation, Microsoft's Xbox, and Nintendo's Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus. Options for exercises may include such categories as dance, boxing, yoga, step aerobics, or bicycling. Manufacturers may target different consumer preferences. For instance, Wii Fit is advertised as a core workout—an exercise regime that emphasizes slower controlled movements, so individuals may choose to take advantage of exercises offered for stretching, toning, and balance purposes from this system.
In particular, the Wii Fit 4-oz. (0.11-kg) Balance Board™, with dimensions of 22 in. (55.9 cm) by 15 in. (38.1 cm) by 5 in. (12.7 cm), functions as a game controller. It registers the force applied to each of its four quadrants, as well as the player's body weight and center of gravity, thereby sensing whether the player is correctly positioned. With the exception of running, all of the exercises in Wii Fit are performed on or next to the board, with the player following the instructions and graphics on the television screen. Each player has a virtual counterpart or avatar, called a “Mii character,” that loses weight or changes shape along with the player. Each time players weigh in, they are given a stamp for the day. A fit bank logs their weight, weight goals, and minutes spent on each exercise. The onscreen trainer takes players through a demonstration of each exercise and then through the exercise itself, offering encouraging words such as “good job” and “you're strong.” The trainer also makes suggestions such as to shift one's weight or to keep training after a poor performance. This system offers numerous activity choices including:
Nintendo also offers the Wii Fit Plus, which incorporates all of the features of Wii Fit along with 20 new activities including skateboarding and a Segway course. Other systems offer similar equipment for comparable activities.
Exergames may be enjoyed by all age groups, including young children to older adult populations. Workout intensity may be varied depending on the activity and the game level of choice, so participants may engage in a slow, rhythmic workout, such as with many yoga routines, or choose a more strenuous workout, such as those in tennis or soccer games. Some games are designed for a lower versus upper body workout so individuals may choose customized body areas to focus on. This option is beneficial for those who use wheelchairs or use other mobility equipment.
Exergames are designed to combine entertainment with physical activity and to track fitness progress. Many are used:
Equipment features of exergames may include:
Initial preparation and exergame equipment may involve:
Most exergames consist of various forms of software and wireless consoles. Some, such as the Wii Fit, include a pressure-sensitive balance board and software for the gaming console.
Players generally expend much more energy while exergaming than while playing a sedentary video game. Many exercises also serve to improve flexibility and balance, helping in the prevention of falls.
A 2009 study funded by Nintendo found that the single-arm stand was the most intense exercise among all of the Wii sports and fitness packages, whereas yoga and strength-training activities were approximately equivalent to traditional exercises. In 2014, an American study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health used the results from 27 previous studies to conclude that “a strong correlation exists between exergaming and increased energy expenditure (up to 300% above resting levels). The majority of active video games tested were found to achieve physical activity levels of moderate intensity, which meet American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for health and fitness.”
When first playing games, players may step over the sides of such items as a balance board. They can also trip while focusing on the screen. Various injuries have been reported from engaging in exergames, including:
Some types of exergames may not be appropriate for all ages and fitness levels. People with medical conditions or who have led sedentary lives should consult their physician before using programs. In addition, not all exergames include a warm-up and cool-down exercise portion, which are beneficial before and after strenuous activities.
In general, exercise performed via exergaming should be used to supplement, rather than replace, other types of exercise. Using exergames can be an easy and enjoyable means of beginning an exercise program at home. Many people like the motivational tracking features of Wii Fit and other virtual exercise games to keep them engaged so that they continue to work out. Participation in exergaming may help prevent or decrease obesity and lifestyle-related conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic diseases.
Shannon Raymond, a research analyst with Altarum's Center for Healthy Child and Youth Development, concluded the following with respect to exergaming and physical activity within children and adolescents: “Overall, researchers agree that exergaming is not a solution to the epidemic of inactivity in children and adolescents, but it can be a strategy to decrease sedentary time in a world where screen time is pervasive.”
Raymond added, “When considering exergaming, it is important to understand that it serves as a substitute for sedentary activities but not for traditional exercise. Using many types of sources of activity may help ensure children and adolescents achieve 60 minutes of daily physical activity.”
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Shape America (Society of Health and Physical Educators), 1900 Association Dr., Reston, VA, 20191-1598, (703) 476-9527, (800) 213-7193, http://www.shapeamerica.org/ .
Laura Jean Cataldo, RN, EdD
Margaret Alic, PhD
Revised by William A. Atkins, BB, BS, MBA