Fitness the New-Fangled Way

Greetings from Philadelphia International Airport!  Airports are fascinating places…great for seeing what people look like and how they act under unusual circumstances.  At this moment, I see a lot of truly overweight people. Most folks are treating the moving walkway like a ride at Disney World–just standing there, inching slowly along and staring blankly at the passing drywall.  I don’t know…maybe the two sights are related.  Have we really become this lazy?  Have we “convenienced” our way out of being in shape?  Have electronic toilet flushers, soap dispensers, and water faucets taken away our last opportunity to burn any calories at all?


We already know the value of physical activity in managing diabetes.  Exercise remains the best tool for improving insulin sensitivity, and it is one of the most potent means of lowering blood sugar levels.  Given our inability to avoid labor-saving devices, maybe it’s time to use technology to increase physical activity rather than decrease it.


A few years ago, one of my clients came in praising something called DDR (Dance-Dance-Revolution), a combination video game and floor mat that awards points to users for matching their steps to on-screen commands.  “I just love the music, the colors, and the lights,” she said.  “It’s fun.  I don’t even realize that I’m exercising.”  I guess that says a lot.  After all, who wouldn’t rather “play” than “work”out?  


A number of companies produce gaming systems with a major physical activity component.  These include Konami, which makes the Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) game for the Sony Playstation; Nintendo, which makes WiiFit and Wii Conditioning games for the Wii system; SSD Company, which makes Xavix; Medway, which makes Cybex; and Light-Space Corp, which makes LightSpace games.  In fact, these types of interactive games are becoming so popular that the term “exergame” has been coined to describe them.  


A recently completed study at Brigham Young University sought to answer the question “How much exercise does one really get from exergaming?”  The researchers hooked subjects up to equipment that measured their energy expenditure and let them play away.  Then they compared the energy burned by playing the various games to the energy burned by walking at a moderate pace of three miles per hour.  They found that Wii Boxing actually burned fewer calories than walking.  However, Dance-Dance-Revolution burned about 10 percent more energy than walking.  Cybex Trazer burned about 20 percent more, LightSpace about 30 percent more, and Xavix about 40 percent more.


Because Sony makes some of the more popular exergames, we asked our clients to rate their exertion levels while playing some of them.  Based on their assessments, we estimated the caloric expenditure of each game:

Wii Exergame

Burns about as  many calories as

Yoga Exercises

Balance Bubble

Table Tilt

Slow dancing

Walking 2.5 mph

Basic Step


Walking 3.0 mph

Ski Slalom

Lifting weights

Walking 3.5-4.0 mph

Hula Hoop

Obstacle Course


Moderate bicycling

Slow jogging 4.5 mph

Super Hula Hoop

Basic Run


Cross-country skiing

Jogging 5.0 mph

Free Run

Swimming laps

Running 6.0 mph



Of course, there can be considerable differences in caloric expenditure based on the way you play the game.  If you lolly-gag through the obstacle course without concern for your time, you might as well be hanging out at the water cooler, whereas if you turn yoga into some sort of personal fitness challenge, your caloric expenditure might rival running.  


When it comes to your diabetes, treat exergames the same as you would a traditional exercise session.  Reductions in mealtime rapid-acting insulin are in order when playing after meals.  For those who take basal insulin or oral medications that can cause hypoglycemia (sulfonylureas or meglitinides), snacks are usually required when playing between or before meals.  Because blood sugar levels are known to affect speed, stamina, range of motion, and mental sharpness, do what you can to optimize your glucose level while playing…lest your scores suffer and your kids, friends, and partners make fun of you.


Given that exergames are fun ways to burn calories and can be performed indoors in a relatively small space, they have the potential to kick-start just about anyone’s exercise program.  If you already exercise regularly, exergames may be a nice addition to or diversion from your usual routine.  Who knows where they might take you?  Before you know it, you might even have the stamina to walk on the moving walkway at the airport.



Editor’s Note:  Gary Scheiner is a Certified Diabetes Educator with a private practice, Integrated Diabetes Services (, near Philadelphia.  He also serves as “Dean” of Type-1 University (, a web-based school of higher learning for insulin users, offering live and prerecorded courses on a variety of topics.  Gary and his staff provide diabetes management and education services via phone and the Internet for children and adults worldwide. For more information, contact, or call (877) 735-3648.

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