FIRST, A DISCLAIMER. I am not reviewing video games. I don’t own a gaming console and am unqualified. That’s what technology reporters are for.
But I know something about working out. I wanted to see if I could get a workout while playing video games. After wrestling with video game consoles, the conclusion: Yes.
The degree of workout depends on the player and the console, I quickly learned. I spent most of my time with the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One, but dabbled a little with the older Nintendo Wii.
Video consoles are fancy these days. The Xbox comes with a Kinect sensor, which scans your body and reads your movements. Some games put an eerily similar version of you on screen. The Xbox One has been lauded for reading your heart rate. I found it creepy watching it read my resting heart rate. Thankfully, you can shout, “Xbox, off!” and it will obey.
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The best thing about the Kinect is it holds you accountable. With the sensor waiting, you have to stand up and jump around to play. In some games, it pauses if you leave its view, so there’s a minor guilt trip waiting whenever you return.
I loved “Dance Central” on Xbox (available on both 360 and the One.) If you want to work up a sweat, go for the hardest level right away and wing it. Every time you get a move wrong, the game will highlight the body part you messed up. I laughed hysterically during “freestyle,” when the Xbox 360 recorded my moves and played it back at high speed.
I chose a 25-minute personal-training segment on “Your Shape: Fitness Evolved” (Xbox 360). It’s an old game, but it has good choices, and a personal trainer voice will tell you to lift your knees or back higher during workouts. I didn’t like the slow pace. If I squatted faster than my “trainer,” I’d lose points, so I did slow, painful push-ups.
At the end of 25 minutes, I burned 61 calories. Is that it?
“Kinect Sports” series (Xbox 360 and One) was entertaining and surprisingly aerobic. I loved track and field. To run, I jogged in place with my knees high. Running in place and jumping over hurdles or the long jump was fun. I jogged so fast I broke the world record in multiple sports. Go ahead, try to beat me.
I was disoriented by boxing. You can box and get an upper-body workout, but if your opponent whaps you in the right spot on the head, the screen goes starry and doesn’t respond to your punches. I wasn’t into fake concussions.
“Just Dance 2” on the older Wii is fun, though the graphics are not so dynamic. Technically, you could sit on the couch, flick your wrist with the Wii Remote and the Wii would give you points. There’s more in the Wiiverse now, with Wii U and updates to the Balance Board, which measures weight and your center of balance in yoga, and other ways to track steps and more. I didn’t venture into the world of Play Stations, which also have some fitness games.
It is possible to stay fit with video games. If you have 20 minutes, you’ll get your heart rate up, sweat a little and maybe inspire someone else at home to join. It’s not my favorite way to get fit, but if I had to choose, I’d throw myself a dance party every now and then. Just for fun.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.