How To Lose Weight Playing Video Games

Becky Worley
Special Contributor, Yahoo! Tech
Upgrade Your Life

Can Video Games Burn As Many Calories as Running?

As a working mom of twins, staying fit is a challenge. I have to exercise in a short amount of time; and to stay motivated, I need to find activities that I actually like.

Variety is key. I can't stand just running three or four times a week; not only does it get boring, but it's too hard on my already beat-up knees. So I wanted to try the new physically active video games; they are certainly more fun than running, but can they burn as many calories?

Running vs. XBOX with Kinect Sensor vs. Wii

I compared two different gaming systems to running — Xbox with Kinect, and Wii. The Xbox with Kinect incorporates a camera with a motion sensor, so you can use your body to control game-play. Leaning, stepping, jumping, kicking, punching, and ducking all let you control your avatar on the screen with your body instead of with your thumbs on a controller or by waving the Wii wand.

The Baseline: Running (20 minutes — 259 calories burned)
For this experiment, I started by setting the baseline. I used a heart rate monitor with a calorie counter to estimate the number of calories I burned. Twenty minutes of flat running burned 259 calories. My average heart rate: 153 beats per minute.

Kinect Dance Central 2 (20 Minutes - 251 calories burned)
For this 40 year-old mom, it's a little challenging to "get my freak on" with Missy Elliot and learn to "grok" to Lady Gaga, but it sure is FUN! This new version of Dance Central offers different workout modes (warm up, sweating, sprinting) and experience levels (I would have chosen Bad Dancer, but Easy was the only option for me).

As you do the moves, the sensor shows you if you are doing it right or wrong. You see in real time how you move compared to the pros (fun animated characters in outrageous outfits). In my test, I burned 251 calories in 20 minutes, and my heart rate averaged 151. I have my Xbox set up in the living room, so I was exercising on carpet in running shoes. As a result, my joints felt like they received no impact in the non-stop exercise.

Kinect Adventures (20 Minutes - 216 calories burned)
Kinect Adventures has a bunch of different games, including one called Reflex Ridge. You side-step, duck, and jump to score points. During 20 minutes of game play, I burned 216 calories and had an average heart rate of 142. What fascinated me with this activity was that the type of workout varied dramatically from dancing or other Kinect Sports. My heart rate peaked at 172 beats per minute — higher than it ever got while running or playing other games. This was much more of an interval workout, which made my lungs feel like I was running sprints or doing a cross fit workout (minus the kettlebells).

Wii Sword Fighting (20 Minutes - 149 calories burned)
I like the Wii, and so many families have them that I was hopeful it would create a good workout. The two most physical games I could find were boxing and sword fighting. Sword fighting is newer and a little more fun, so I commenced dueling. My heart rate averaged a measly 124 beats per minute as I sliced and diced. My shoulders got sore — and not a good muscle sore, more like joint pain sore (I'm not a doctor, just an aging jock, so this is just a personal opinion). In 20 minutes, I burned only 149 calories. I also had to remind myself constantly to use my whole arms to swing the controller, as it was easy to get lazy and swing the controller around with just my wrist and have similar on-screen success. I should mention that the Wii also has a fitness board, called the Wii Fit Plus, but I didn't use that for my test.

XBOX Training Games/Experiences

Xbox/Kinect also offers training-specific titles, like EA's Active 2 Personal Trainer, My Shape Evolved, and the Biggest Loser.

Active 2
I found Active 2 super frustrating: it had a hard time tracking me on the floor, the trainer was annoying rather than inspiring, and I was bored.

My Shape Evolved
I really like the way this game looks: beautiful graphics, relaxing music. If you could package a trip to the spa for Yoga class, this would be it. It has some cool Tai Chi and Yoga/stretching exercises, which may be good for people who want basics in their home, but not people looking for a new way to work out.

Biggest Loser
I love the show, so I really liked having Bob Harper training me (he does all the voice-overs for his character), and I liked the exercises. I only burned 175 calories in 20 minutes, but it wasn't meant to be a straight cardio workout. It was a lot of core fitness, and it made me sore where the others just made me tired.

All in all, I had a ton of fun playing Dance Central 2 and Kinect Adventures, and I now do each of them one to two times a week to supplement my running. Since they burn almost as many calories as a two-miler, why not?! And my favorite part is that the Kinect games are a workout I will be able to do with my kids when they get a little older!