People could expend more energy playing the Wii Sports games or doing aerobics and yoga with the Wii Fit than during a brisk walk, the researchers found.
The study said a third of the activities on the games console required energy expenditure that is the equivalent to “moderate intensity exercise” of the kind the Government recommends to keep fit and healthy.
Adults in Britain are recommended to take 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five or more days a week.
It comes after the Wii became the first games console to be endorsed by the NHS and elderly people are taking up the games to stay active in residential homes.
More than 50 million Wii consoles have been sold globally since it was launched in 2006. As well as traditional video games, there are a range of sports and a balance board for players to stand on to practice activities from skiing and yoga to dance and aerobics.
The research, being presented at the American Heart Association scientific meeting in Orlando, found Wii Sport boxing was the most efficient activity and was as strenuous as a round of golf carrying your own clubs.
The study was conducted by a team at the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo with volunteers placed in a metabolic airtight chamber to measure their energy expenditure, in METs or metabolic equivalent of task, while they performed a variety of activities.
Mets are a measure of the body’s oxygen consumption, with one Met the resting metabolic rate.
Wii golf was the least strenuous game with just 2 Mets, a less strenuous activity than watering houseplants, bowling was 3 Mets which was the same as walking from the house to the car, and Wii tennis was the same intensity as walking the dog.
The more strenuous exercise on the Wii Fit, which takes the player through an exercise programme such as yoga or aerobics, was a single-arm stand, described as a half sit-up and then using one hand on the floor to stand up. This had the same intensity as fast ballroom dancing.
Lead author Dr Motohiko Miyachi said: “The range of energy expenditure in these active games is sufficient to prevent or to improve obesity and lifestyle related disease from heart disease to diabetes.”
The study was funded by Nintendo.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Active video games, where people need to jump up and down or dance about as part of the game, are a great way to get moving more and help beat obesity.
“Activity like this throughout the day can easily add up to the 60 active minutes children need or the 30 minutes that adults need five times a week.”