Fitness video games can break your Covid pandemic exercise slump

Visitors at the e-sport tournament "Homestory Cup" get ready to move by playing "Dance Dance Revolution" in Krefeld, Germany, on June 29, 2019.

(CNN)Some discover their preferred method of exercise early on and have the self-discipline to stick with it for decades. The rest of us, well, we get a little bored.

Among the many challenges brought on by the pandemic, some far more urgent than others, is the inability to spice up our workout routines. Gyms and exercise studios are either closed or risky, and team sports are far from ideal. Zoom classes and YouTube classes are better than nothing, but the one-sidedness of the interaction makes it oh-so-easy to bring it at 50% -- or less. Exercising outside is becoming less and less appealing as temperatures drop and the sun sets before you've had a chance to digest lunch.
If you, too, are finding it hard to motivate these days, you might consider fitness video games. Even if you are not a gamer. Even if you never work out.
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      Fitness video games require you to use your whole body to engage with the game, instead of just your fingers. They've grown in sophistication and variety over the past decades, and are designed to give you an extra incentive to workout. Some do this by gamifying the session, and others by monitoring movement and tracking progress. Texting friends instead of doing another set of lunges? The game will know.
      "Fitness games give us an immediate reward for doing something that pays off in the long term," said Renee Gittins, executive director of the International Game Developers Association who has consulted on the development of fitness video games. "Unfortunately, humans are not good at processing long-term benefits, so that immediate positive feedback can be a great way to encourage habit creation."
      Important note: If you experience pain while performing any movements while playing a fitness video game, stop immediately. Check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

      Wide variety of games

      There is something for almost everyone when it comes to fitness games.
      Some fitness games are like workout videos or personal trainer sessions, but with an extra interactive twist. Fitness Boxing on Nintendo Switch walks users through a customizable, and challenging, boxing workout. There are also Zumba games for a variety of systems, which make use of controllers or motion sensors to track movements and progress.
      Visitors play Arms on the Nintendo Switch console during its German premiere in Offenbach, Germany, January 13, 2017.
      Other fitness video games offer a more fanciful backdrop for working out. Arms, which is available on Nintendo Switch, is a fighting game in which users choose between a variety of extendable, customizable arms and attempt to knock out opponents in different settings. Common Sense gives it the greenlight for kids 10 and up.
      Beat Saber, which is a virtual reality game available on PlayStation 4 and other devices, allows users to slice blocks representing musical beats in a neon universe. Ring Fit Adventure, a Nintendo Switch game that comes with a physical ring, is an action game, in which users roam around a large, virtual and brightly colored world and defeat enemies. It offers one of the more challenging workouts.
      A visitor plays the Ring Fit Adventure game at the Nintendo booth during the Third China International Import Expo November 6 in Shanghai.
      Dance Dance Revolution is one of the oldest fitness video games, dating back to the late 1990s, and requires a floor pad to track movement. The latest versions can be played on a PC; older ones are compatible with Xbox and PlayStation. Just Dance is a simpler, more kid-friendly dance game, Gittins said.
      Dance games are particularly good at getting heart rates up, which can benefit body and mind.
      Those with a virtual reality system have a wide range of deeply realized fictional worlds to choose from like Sprint Vector, which mixes extreme sports with an intergalactic game show. Those with no systems can try out cellphone-friendly games like Pokémon Go and Harry Potter Wizards Unite, both of which require users to get moving outside and are also good for kids.
      The Harry Potter Wizards Unite app can encourage kids and parents to get moving outdoors.
      Hot tip: For those who have a system and would prefer to try a game before buying one, there is a decent chance your local library has one you could borrow.

      The appeal

      For many, the ease of these home-based workouts is the big draw.
      Hweimi Tsou, a 31-year-old self-identified gamer and digital communications manager in the Bay Area, had never found herself in a workout groove before Fitness Boxing. She appreciates how easy fitness games are to integrate into her schedule, and that she can get a targeted, customized workout that taps into her sense of competition. She also finds it fun.
      Bay Area resident Hweimi Tsou works out at home with Ring Fit Adventure on Nintendo Switch. Here she does knee lifts.
      "Right when you start the game, it tells you how many calories you have burned this week," Tsou said. "The game helps you find your sweet spot (in terms of exercise intensity), and then it keeps you going by pushing you to your limit."
      Fitness video games are also appealing to those who don't feel comfortable exercising in front of others.
      Duane Montague, a 51-year-old account director in Chino Hills, California, lost 65 pounds through the now discontinued Xbox Fitness. It's something the self-described creative type doesn't think would have ever happened in the gym.
      "The idea of going to the gym, or running on a treadmill or lifting weights ... that's just not me," said Montague.
      Through the videos and the sensors, he was able to slowly build up his strength and endurance, and make sure he was doing the movements correctly. Eventually, he built up his fitness confidence and did go to the gym; gaming became his supplemental workout.