The Wii Fit is an interactive video game that helps you perform cardio, strength-training, yoga and balance-training exercises. To use the Wii Fit for running, you simply stash the remote control in your pocket while running in place. The corresponding screen on your television shows a route around animated Wuhu island as you wave to Mii characters that pass by. Jogging in place with the Wii is a good starting place for fitness, but differs significantly from running outdoors.
Running helps you burn calories, which supports weight management. In an American Council on Exercise-sponsored study published in 2009, researchers determined that running with the Wii Fit burned approximately 5.5 calories per minute. If you weigh 155 pounds and run outside at a modest 5 mph pace, you burn nearly twice that amount per minute. Therefore, to achieve the same calorie-burning effect with the Wii, you'll have to run about twice as long inside.
Muscle Activation Intensity
Running coach and exercise physiologist Susan Paul explains that outdoor running demands more from your muscles and connective tissue than running in place with the Wii. When you run outdoors, you push off the ground to propel yourself forward -- activating the muscles in your hips, calves and legs. These muscles activate when running in place with the Wii, but not in the same intense manner. You could try setting up the Wii in a large room and run back and forth to mimic the motion of moving forward that you experience outdoors, but you'll never be able to achieve a full-on stride or consistent speed unless you head to the track or trail.
When you run with the Wii, you don't have wind resistance like you do outside, which increases the intensity of your run. Running coach Greg McMillan notes that you have to find a way to spend about 7 percent more energy on the treadmill to match the amount of energy you spend overcoming air resistance. On a treadmill, you can set the incline to a 1 percent grade to make up for this lack of wind resistance indoors. With the Wii Fit, however, no practical method for simulating wind resistance exists. So basically, running outside requires more effort -- 7 percent more -- than running with the Wii Fit, simply because of wind.
In a 2011 issue of "Environmental Science and Technology," a meta-analysis performed by researchers from the University of Exeter found that exercising outdoors correlated with feelings of positivity, including decreases in feelings of tension, anger and depression. When compared to indoor exercisers, outdoor exercisers also experienced a bigger energy boost and an enhanced sense of enjoyment and satisfaction with their workouts. Although researchers are not sure of the exact mechanisms that make outdoor exercise more pleasant and fulfilling, Alan Fogel, Professor of Psychology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, surmises that exercising outdoors can bring back memories of childhood play. It also makes you feel more in concert with nature and as if you are part of a community. Your senses are stimulated, which enhances your connection to yourself. If scheduling or outdoor conditions make a Wii Fit run session more convenient, it's still better than lounging on the couch; but it seems that you'll benefit the most from getting yourself outdoors for a run or a walk as often as possible.
- American Council on Exercise: Wii Fit or Just a Wee Bit
- Runner's World: I Run With Wii Fit. How Do I Start Running Outside?
- Running Times: Four Great Treadmill Workouts
- Environmental Science and Technology: Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing Than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review
- Psychology Today: Green Exercise
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.