Bowl, golf, box, play tennis or baseball – all in front of your TV. That’s the appeal of Nintendo’s Wii Sports, a video game that’s been popping up not only in living rooms around the country but also in retirement communities and senior centers. Now Nintendo has gone a step further: The Wii Fit is an “exergame,” specifically designed to give you a workout. Instead of the hand-held controller used to play Wii Sports, Wii fitness games rely on a pressure-sensitive “balance board” that you can use to test your balance and body mass index (BMI) as well as do strength training, aerobics, yoga and balance exercises. In Wii exercise games, you can walk a virtual tightrope, ski a slalom and twirl a hula hoop. What other types of home exercise equipment offer you that?

Like Wii Sports, Wii Fit can be good for people with arthritis – yoga and balance exercises can help improve range of motion. Jill Markowitz, an occupational therapist at Hackensack University Medical Center in Englewood, New Jersey, says you might want to take it slow with some aerobics-related Wii exercises – jogging in place isn’t recommended for painful joints, but you could march in place instead – and avoid anything that puts too much pressure on your joints (for some people, that may mean push-ups are off limits).

If you’re a novice at Wii exercise, follow the same precautions you do for “real” exercise. Markowitz suggests “starting with short 15 to 20 minute sessions three times a week and gradually work up to 30 to 45 minutes a day.” Make sure your playing area is clear so you don’t trip, and wear comfortable clothes that don’t limit mobility. Ask your doctor or physical therapist if there are any movements you should avoid.

How much of a workout will you get? Neither Wii Fit or Wii Sports will replace your regular walk or trip to the gym – a study by Cake Media, Nintendo’s public relations firm, found that kids burned about 179 calories per hour playing Wii Sports tennis, while a real game of tennis clocked about 318 calories per hour – but Wii fitness is much better than sitting in front of the TV.

The Skinny on Wii Fit

• Includes balance, yoga, aerobics and strengthening exercises

• Retails for $89.99 (includes software and balance board)

• Wii console retails for $249.99