Virtual realty workouts are gaining popularity

Virtual sports are nothing new for those of us old enough to remember the game “Pong.” The Nintendo Wii sports system, and its newest addition Wii Fit, reflects how far computer science has come in 30 years.

Virtual reality is a way humans can interact with a computer-generated environment. This technology has existed for many years in the form of flight simulators used to test the capabilities of pilots or astronauts in critical situations.

This interaction is accomplished by stimulating various regions of the brain. Recent studies show that the more sophisticated a virtual environment is, the greater the activity in the prefrontal region of the brain. A sense of presence leads to a more realistic interaction.

Recently, a friend showed me a picture of her 92-year-old grandmother who, along with several octogenarians, won a Wii bowling competition at the assisted living facility where they live.

Nancy Michaud, recreation director at the Harrington Court Rehabilitation Center in Colchester, uses the Wii sports system regularly with patients undergoing rehabilitation. The system provides a variety of sports simulations including golf, bowling, and boxing. The object is to swing the upper extremities appropriately while pressing and releasing a button on the hand control. Interestingly, boxing is among the more popular programs.

The Wii Fit system has become a favorite with people who wish to forgo a gym membership and get a quick workout at home. Nikki Fennikoh is a 24-year-old who balances a busy home and work schedule. She regularly does push-ups, sit-ups, and yoga with this system.

“The feedback from the fit system regarding progress and correct form is encouraging,” Fennikoh said.

Variety is crucial to a good workout program. Virtual sports have clearly evolved to the point where they provide an adequate option. Most importantly, this technology has just begun to scratch the surface.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital and in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC, in Norwich. E-mail him at If you wish to learn more about sports health topics, listen to the podcast or go to the Healthy Sports blog at

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