Is Fitness Gaming On Its Way To Being The Next Wellness Trend?

Video games have often received a bad rap for making people "couch potatoes," but there's a newer category of gaming that's changing the narrative. Fitness gaming, or exergaming, combines the fun and competitive nature of video games with body movement and exercise. You might remember early 2000s games that got you up on your feet in your own living room, like "Dance Dance Revolution," "Just Dance," and "Wii Sports." Now, with virtual reality (VR) headsets, there are more and more games coming out and getting people in the groove. In fact, a HTF Market Intelligence report stated that the virtual reality fitness game market was valued at $111 million globally in 2022, and it's projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 39.8% between now and 2029. 


We've been getting used to doing a lot of things from home over the past few years — online classes, remote work, and virtual exercise, too. Fitness gaming became increasingly popular as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people trying at-home workouts as a substitute for the gym. If you're looking for some fitness motivation, exergaming can help you get started, or it can be a great way to supplement the workout routine you already have.

Examples of exergaming

While you may enjoy workout videos at home, exergaming takes virtual fitness to another level. Boxing and fighting games are especially popular with virtual reality headsets and hand-tracking technology that makes you feel like you're in the boxing ring. "Box VR," for instance, is a VR game that mimics boxing by using a headset and motion-tracking controllers. "Bodycombat VR" on the Meta Quest 2 or Meta Quest Pro headsets is another popular option. One player who struggled with their physical health in the past told Les Mills how this game tremendously help them on their fitness journey. "Finally, a fun way to work out! It makes me sweat and I barely notice that I'm doing physical activity. It's that good. I can't recommend it enough!" they said. 


If you love to dance, there are tons of dance games out there, and most of them don't require a VR headset. "Zumba Fitness: World Party" is an older but still popular game that gets you moving and breaking a sweat. The Nintendo Switch console also has some fitness options, "Ring Fit Adventure" being a popular one. In this game, you enter a magical world where you do different exercise movements to defeat enemies.

Make your workouts more fun

Exercise is one of those things that can be difficult for people to start doing regularly. We don't get immediate rewards from it; it takes a lot of time and hard work to see the results you want. With fitness gaming, we receive some of that instant gratification through points or reward systems that the games provide, allowing us to work towards a goal and stay motivated. This makes it feel less like work and more like a fun way to build new habits. You may even forget you're working out because you're having so much fun. 


Fitness games are also a super convenient way to work out at home if you don't have time to hit the gym or if the gym intimidates you. You can engage in exergaming whenever you want and from the comfort of your own home. If you'd prefer to work out with friends, there are multiplayer options as well. Invite some friends over and make a virtual fitness game night out of it. 

Train your body and mind

There's that old saying, often told to young kids by adults: "video games will rot your brain." This is certainly not true for fitness games. Exergaming can not only help us stay active at home, but it has also been proven to be beneficial for the mind. For instance, a 2020 study in the "JMIR Serious Games" journal found that exergaming was an effective tool for improving physical and cognitive function in people with mild cognitive impairment or dementia. 


Additionally, exergaming can improve your dual-tasking performance, the ability to perform two tasks at the same time, like balancing on one leg while lifting an arm. One study in the "Games for Health Journal" found that exergaming helped improve dual-tasking in older adults. A similar study from the "Frontiers in Neurology" journal found improved dual-tasking in people with Parkinson's disease after six weeks of exergame training. 

Potential downsides of fitness gaming

Overall, people have mostly had positive things to say about fitness gaming. But when we quantify our fitness, it's possible to develop unhealthy relationships with these games. We've seen this with other fitness trackers like watches and health apps, as people often become obsessed with numbers and counting their steps. Instead of enjoying a walk outside, people often become fixated on reaching their step goals. "If someone recognizes that they fixate on numbers and rewards, they may want to speak with a trainer or psychologist if they become too engaged in gamification," Dr. Haley Perlus, a sports and performance psychology expert, explains via Well+Good.


A 2016 article in the "Journal of Consumer Research" found that quantifying certain activities, including exercise, can reduce the amount of enjoyment you get from engaging in them, making them feel more like work. As a result, too much quantification might make you do it less, and it might become less enjoyable. But the benefits of exergaming seem to outweigh this potential downside, so if it feels like a good idea for you, try it out.