Nintendo Wii: A Video Game That's Good for You

Believe it or not, there is a video game that can actually be good for you! Video game giant Nintendo has come out with a game that is taking the boomer and elderly market by storm. Senior centers, adult day cares, assisted living facilities and even nursing homes have been reaping the rewards of this innovative game, whose benefits are much greater than you might expect.

Playing a Role in Post-Op Rehab

On December 26, 2006, I had both my hips replaced—yes, both. All went very well: the surgery took less than three hours, I was back home within 48 hours, and I walked from our car up the steps into the living room using a walker. During the next two weeks I continued to use the walker and had in-home physical therapy. After that I used a cane for about four weeks. While the surgery was a success, adjusting to my new limited mobility was arduous, to say the least. Our son, Tom, purchased and installed a Nintendo Wii game system in our family room. The Wii was fun for all of us to use, especially for me.

What is the Wii, Anyway?

The Wii (pronounced “we” ), is a video game made by Nintendo. It costs about $250 and attaches easily to your TV. A distinguishing feature is the game’s wireless controller, the Wii Remote, a handheld pointing device that detects movement and speed. The nature of the Wii means that you use your arms, legs, and torso when playing. Most video games in the past had the player look at the screen and use a finger-controlled unit. While the Wii is still interactive in this sense, it is also engages the user in a physically active manner—a clear evolution.

A Solution for Depression?

When I came home from the surgery, I had some post-operative depression. Using the Wii, I could stand and “play” tennis. I challenged my opponents with my forehand, backhand, serve and volley. I have always enjoyed tennis, but because of increasing hip, knee and back pain, I had not been able to play it for almost a year. It felt so good to “get back in the game.” Not only did the Wii help in my physical recovery, but it also eased my post-surgery depression.

Like Any Activity, Easy Does It

According to the medical literature, exercise may produce greater improvements among elderly who have both physical and emotional problems.1 Another study, which combined findings from seven clinical trials that included exercise for 10 to 36 weeks, showed that exercise reduced the risk of falls for elderly adults.2

One cautionary note: you’ll want to start slowly. In the November 25, 2006 edition of the Wall Street Journal, Jamin Warren wrote that the “Nintendo [Wii] forces players to move their bodies, causing aches for some couch potatoes.”

Intergenerational Activities for the Young and Old

Kids are pretty much guaranteed to love this game, but you probably know some seniors who might benefit from playing the Wii, too. If they’re not tennis fans, they’re sure to find something they like: the system also comes with golf, baseball, bowling and boxing. The Wii is a great activity for grandparents and grandchildren to enjoy together. Older adults with limited mobility can play, too; standing is not required, so these players can be comfortably seated while they play. The game allows users to play against a Wii computerized player or with another person. You can even create a Wii player (called a Mii) to represent yourself. Our game console has “Miis” of everyone in the family, including one that my 91-year-old mother-in-law designed for herself. See an example of the Wii bowling game.

Stay active in both mind and body...take care!

Dr. Joe Woelfel

  1. Blumenthal JA, Emery CF, Madden DJ, et al., J Gerontol. 1991; 46:P3.

  2. Province MA, Hadley EC, Hornbrook MC, et al., JAMA. 1995; 273:1341–7.

Editor’s Note: This article is an independent review, and not a paid endorsement by Nintendo.