As you might expect from the name, exergaming is a combination of video gaming and physical exercise. Specifically, the term refers to any kind of video game that encourages and responds to the kind of physical movements that you’d partake in to try to get fit. These games tend to play up the fitness angle as a selling point, although dance-based games that emphasize the fun element are still usually grouped under the exergaming banner. Exergaming does seem to be on the rise, but why is this? How did this phenomenon come about, and are there really genuine health benefits to exergaming as the form’s proponents claim?

Back to the beginning

Exergaming’s history goes back to the very early days of video games in the 1980s. The basic exergaming format even started back in the arcades, with dance-based arcade games similar to Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution. Early examples of console-based exergaming include Foot Craz (1987) for the Atari and Power Pad AKA Family Trainer (1988) for the Nintendo. At the same time, manufacturers of fitness technology were applying early virtual reality systems to devices such as exercise bikes, and these strands would come together in the 2000s, most spectacularly with the Nintendo Wii in 2006.

What you need

The equipment needed to take part in exergaming varies according to the platform being used and the type of game you intend to play – for instance, a fitness-based game or a dancing one. In both cases, your body should get a good workout, so fitness clothing that allows your skin to breathe is a good idea. Other options might include compression gloves to support the muscles in your hands and help give you a secure grip on the console. Of course, make sure you have plenty of space to lay out your gaming board with a clear view of the screen, plus enough room to move about without knocking into anything.

Twice the fun

The rise in popularity of exergaming shouldn’t really surprise anyone. Video gaming and personal exercise routines are probably the two runaway success stories in the personal leisure market over the last 30 or so years. Without going too deeply into the sociological reasons for this, they both appeal to our modern lifestyle, and combining the two activities was always going to be a winner. It took a while for the technology to be both sophisticated and affordable enough to do the idea justice, but things have really come together in the last decade, and there are still many exciting exergaming developments on the drawing board.

Bringing exercise into the video gaming arena also brings in a new demographic, attracting older players and more females to the joys of console gaming. These are people who perhaps saw gaming as a sedentary, “couch potato” activity, and who prefer to keep active. Exergaming is a great way for them to see that there’s more to the gaming world overall than they had previously imagined.

Getting healthy    

According to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health blog, exergaming can be a valuable contributor towards overall health, though it should not replace real-life sports or exercise routines. However, packages such as Wii Aerobics can provide the kind of low-impact workout we should all be doing every day. A 2015 study by the University of Tennessee was even more positive. Comparing Xbox Kinect sessions to unstructured outdoor play, the study concluded that video gaming was the more effective form of physical energy expenditure.

Games to go for

Wii Fit Plus is one of the most popular Nintendo Wii games and offers 40 different training activities, including yoga and balance-based mini-games. For the Xbox 360 Kinect system, Your Shape: Fitness takes you through a range of cardio, yoga, and tai chi exercises, giving you a personal score after each routine. For those who fancy something a bit more fun and glamorous, Dance Central offers a dance-off that also tracks how many calories you’re burning. However, guys may prefer Active NFL Training Camp for the Wii, which uses a total body tracking system to simulate actual NFL training exercises – and you can even choose which team you want to train with!

As video game technology becomes more sophisticated and designers become ever more imaginative, the popularity of gaming can only increase. However, people will always want to exercise more of their bodies than just their wrists and thumbs, both to stay healthy and for the sheer physical joy of it. Gym subscriptions are expensive, and the outdoors is often cold and dangerous, especially for children. For