Health Notes: Is the Wii as good as the Weal Thing, activity improves brain power, stability ball crunches win

A look at several studies, including one that compared Nintendo Wii games to actual activities, one that looked at exercise and brain power, and one examining the effectiveness of crunches with a stability ball.
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This is another in an occasional series of SNEWS® Health Notes reports that will take a look at one or more recent pieces of research studies or reports about health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. We'll focus on news you can use and present results in plain English, without all the techno-garble that can make many research studies seem overwhelming to read, let alone understand and explain to somebody else. Let us know what you think, what you would like to see, and how you'd like to see it!

>> Is the Wii as good as the Weal Thing?

With the benefit of a Nintendo Wii being its ability to train sport-specific skills, it could be a good complement to fitness equipment and it could get more people moving and thinking fitness. But is it as good as The Weal Thing? A recent study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that the Wii Sports increased heart rate, oxygen use and perceived exertion, ultimately resulting in more calories burned.

"With interactive video games becoming more popular than ever before and Americans now spending an average of 19 to 25 hours per week watching TV and playing video games, we set out to discover whether or not the Wii is truly beneficial as an exercise tool," said Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D., ACE’s chief science officer. "While they have managed to get traditional gamers off the couch and our results show that Wii Sports offer more of a cardio benefit than sedentary games, we believe there is no substitute for the real sport."

Coming in at No. 1 in the study, Wii boxing produced the most significant results, approximately 216 calories per 30 minutes, followed by tennis, baseball, bowling and lastly golf, which came in at 159, 135, 117, and 93 calories respectively. None of the Wii games burned more calories than if participating in the actual activity though. Actual bowling burns twice as many calories -- tennis and baseball also showed significant differences. The Wii's golf game burns a little less than one calorie per minute than hitting balls at the driving range (3.1 calories per minute vs. 3.9 calories per minute).

The University of Wisconsin study’s subjects were age 20-29, and the same group is now looking at the newer Wii Fit.

So what? While playing the Wii provided fitness benefits, the games weren’t as good as the real thing. We suspect the Wii Fit will come in about the same.

For the scientifically minded: Click here to see a complete study summary as it appeared in the July/August 2008 edition of ACE Fitness Matters magazine.

>> Physical activity improves brain power in older adults

Activity isn’t just to look good or build muscles. For many it’s about health, and for many it may be about a longer, higher-quality life. A study has shown that physical activity reduces the cognitive decline in those at risk for Alzheimer’s.

Done in Australia, the 24-week study used volunteers age 50 and older who reported memory problems but did not yet meet the criteria for dementia. Participants were randomly allocated to an education and usual care group or to a 24-week home-based program of physical activity.

Those who were active improved their rating for brain function on a scale used to assess Alzheimer’s.

So what? Being physically active may help memory and reduce cognitive impairment.

For the scientifically minded:
The study appeared in a September 2008 Journal of the American Medical Association – 300(9): 1027-1037. Click here to view an abstract.

>> Stability ball crunches may offer more benefit than traditional ones.

Abdominal muscle activity was assessed in 41 healthy adults using a stability ball for crunches in two positions. Muscle activity for the upper and lower rectus abdominus and external obliques was much lower in traditional crunches than in the position with the stability ball at the lower back. On average, the abdominal muscle activity doubled when the stability ball was moved from the upper to the lower back.

So what? If people use a stability ball correctly to do crunches, they can achieve greater results than doing crunches without a ball, and get those results in the same amount of time.

For the scientifically minded:
The study appeared in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(2): 506-509.