I’ve never been an athletic person. I tried softball, volleyball, jiu-jitsu and running. In fourth grade, asthma made a surprise debut in my lungs on a track-and-field day. After that, I regularly “forgot” my inhaler or faked an illness to sit out of gym class. Between a lack of talent, motivation and interest, I eventually gave up trying to exercise.
As my metabolism began its slow descent last year — thanks in part to a forced sedentary lifestyle brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic — I decided it was finally time to try and find an exercise routine that didn’t stop my breathing. That’s when I was introduced to “Ring Fit Adventure.”
“Ring Fit Adventure” is a game for the Nintendo Switch in which you defeat enemies by completing various exercises. It comes with an adjustable leg strap and Ring-Con (a resistance ring the player connects a Joy-Con to) that are used to measure a player’s activity level. In order to move in the game, the player must run in place. If you’re like me and don’t live on the first floor of your building, there’s an apartment mode in which you quickly squat in place instead.
Each level takes the form of a run through diverse environments that range from peaceful plains to mysterious bogs. Along the way, there are many obstacles. There are crates to break by pressing inward on the Ring-Con, treadmills that force you to run faster and a variety of unique ways to traverse through the world, like a paddleboard powered by pressing the Ring-Con in and twisting.
When you engage in combat, a health bar appears above each enemy. The only way to decrease an enemy’s health is by choosing from a number of exercises you must complete in real life. Each exercise is color-coded to tell you which part of the body it targets. My personal favorites are the overhead press and Russian twist, because nothing exhausts me more than using my nonexistent upper body strength. As you progress through levels, various monsters become stronger, and more difficult exercises are unlocked to help defeat them.
Not only is the exercise component great, but it’s also a colorful and inviting role-playing game (RPG). The main story of the game drops the player in a world threatened by Dragaux, an inordinately buff dragon. Dragaux happens to have a history with your sidekick, a ring named — you guessed it — Ring. The player must exercise around this fantastical world to help Ring gain its powers back and stop Dragaux from subjecting towns to his “dark influence” and dangerous monsters. Like many RPGs, there is a skill tree to upgrade, smoothies to make with various buffs and side quests in each town.
I enjoy the “Game Gym” sidequests, in which you must complete a series of exercises with a high level of accuracy to receive a reward. You can come back to these gyms to reach higher ranks and complete challenges for other side quests. I also enjoy the quick play mode, which is separate from the story mode. There are multiple sets designed to work abs, legs, arms, posture and much more. Quick play mode allows me to get in a speedy yet effective workout in the midst of a packed schedule.
I know that to some, playing a video game to improve one’s health seems contradictory. While it may be a little strange to think about, “Ring Fit” is no joke. It’s a genuinely fun game, and it has taught me more about having a healthy lifestyle than high school gym or health class ever did. I can’t imagine how my physical and mental health would be affected if I never started focusing on them, and that’s thanks to “Ring Fit Adventure.”
Allow me to get super personal for a moment: After quarantine started and classes went online, I became far unhealthier than I already was. I wasn’t eating well, and I barely moved throughout the day. With gyms no longer an option, I was unsure how to start exercising on my own. In short, I was doing pretty terribly, both physically and mentally. I was skeptical about the game before my boyfriend introduced me to it. Video games had always been something I enjoyed in the dark cave of my room, surrounded by soda cans and potato chips. The concept of a video game improving my health seemed ridiculous, if not impossible.
As soon as I actually started the game, I got sucked into the charming world and addictive combat system. The game knows how to motivate you. Before you begin a level, it displays how much time that level will take and how many calories it will help you burn. It’s so easy to finish one level and think, “Six minutes? I could totally beat this next one!”
I genuinely looked forward to exercising in the morning, because I could watch myself making progress. I could see how long I exercised, how many calories I burned and which parts of my body I was using the most. For one of the first times in my life, I was actually taking proper care of myself.
Of course, exercise isn’t the only component of a healthy lifestyle. “Ring Fit” set me off on a health journey; for example, I started paying much closer attention to my diet. Exercise has also improved my mental health, not only due to the serotonin boost, but also because of the improvement in my self-image. The comfort of exercising in my own home combined with the rigidity and stability of a routine made it the first positive experience I’ve had with fitness.
I’m not alone — many people have had their first positive exercise experience in years with “Ring Fit.” Searching the game on YouTube brings up tons of results, the top ones being transformation videos. Videos such as “Can You Get Fit With Ring Fit Adventure For the Nintendo Switch?” and “Nintendo’s new Ring Fit Adventure kicked my butt” detail how much progress people make by playing the game. It has inspired people to get active during a time when it’s difficult to have the space and energy to do so. Even better, it’s inspired people to change their mindset on health and listen to their bodies.
Taking control of my health has been a long journey for me. I’ve gone from being a 7-year-old incapable of eating anything other than chicken nuggets to a functional adult who’s figured out how to make whole vegetarian meals for two.
Yes, there were plenty of bumps along the way. I’ve made cauliflower so spicy that I had to throw it out multiple times. I’ve exercised so much it was difficult to walk. I’ve shared tender moments crying over the brownies and Taco Bell I dearly missed. Now, I’m at a good point in my life. I’m still learning what it means to be healthy, but “Ring Fit Adventure” has been vital to my journey.
Daily Arts Contributor Harper Klotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.