Video games have historically been categorized as the type of “screentime” that robs us of critical and necessary physical exercise. But with up to 2 million people per month using video games for exercise, we may have to revisit that classification.

Exercise-based video games, or “exer-games,” have been around for a while. The Nintendo Wii made waves with its fitness games, such as tennis and boxing, back in 2006. Its innovative handheld device made it possible to project your body’s movements onto the screen. With advancements in virtual reality and other technology, those games have only become more sophisticated and immersive. 

Researcher Bruce Bailey, Ph.D., a Brigham Young University exercise scientist, says the games can burn up to 5 calories a minute – the equivalent of walking on a treadmill –  compared to the 1 calorie a minute our bodies typically burn at rest.

In addition to the sheer calorie burn benefits, exer-games might also show promise in helping people stick with exercise by facilitating access to finding those they enjoy, which is key to persistence. It’s never been easier to try out golf, tennis, baseball, wakeboarding, bowling, boxing, dancing, yoga, and even dueling! You can engage in these sports from the comfort of your own home, and might even up the ante by competing with other remote players.

While there is no substitute for in-person sports competition or breathing in the fresh air of the outdoors, exer-games provide exercise options that are both fun and effective. This was proven over the pandemic, during which engagement in exer-games grew. This helped people lose weight, stay healthy, and stay connected with a community during a challenging period.

As with any activity, it’s good to strike a balance. Try to prioritize exercise in the real world, but lean on exer-games for cardio and strength if that’s what you enjoy. The important thing is to keep moving!