How Nintendo's Ring Fit Adventure changed my life during the pandemic

How Nintendo's Ring Fit Adventure changed my life during the pandemic
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I wrote our Ring Fit Adventure review last November, but it wasn't until this rather unbelievable summer that I truly fell in love with Nintendo's incredibly weird fitness video game. Exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, and often sold out, this peculiar game saved me from a cruel summer of back pains and bad sleep.

My true appreciation for Ring Fit Adventure took so much time because I simply gave the game away. I didn't really have the space in my apartment for it, as the range of motion required for the rigorous exercises is simply too wide for my bedroom. And then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.

Why I needed Ring Fit Adventure

I was no longer getting free exercise from hour-long walks to and from the office for my commute, thanks to a new, shorter and intimate path to a now-virtual office. 

Working at home has been both a gift and a curse, because while I'm incredibly appreciative of a job that I can do without going outside, everything about writing online has led me to be more sedentary, and I haven't been able to bring my incredibly heavy standing desk from our office to my apartment.

My dietary habits hadn't gotten any better during this time (I don't expect they will change any time soon), so over those last months, I've dabbled in different ways to try and exercise a little.  But those online yoga classes were either too hard or too soft, leaving me like the Goldilocks of stay at home fitness, and instead walking a lot (with my mask on) outside. I eventually ordered Ring Fit Adventure (when it was finally back in stock), but I didn't give it a chance at first, because I was too busy living life inside of Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

So most days of the week I sat here, chipping away at work in a relatively ergonomic chair and without all the movement and physical activity that came with the modern office. And I was almost getting away with it all, but bad habits caught up with me. and after about 4.5 months of staying at home, my lower back stiffness returned, and I realized I had to do something different.

How (and why) Ring Fit Adventure works so well

For those unfamiliar with Ring Fit Adventure, its premise is the kind of fever dream I would have only expected from Nintendo or a neon-tinted children's animated series. You're in the role of someone trying to exercise, but everyone in the area is terrorized by the menacing Dragaux, a mesh-clad fitness-focused demon who is all about his core strength and glutes. 

(Image credit: Nintendo)

This peculiar game saved me from a cruel summer of back pains and bad sleep.

You fight Dragaux with actual exercise, as the left Joy-Con is tucked into a band that wraps around your left leg, and the right Joy-Con snaps into a ring you flex and pull. Experienced fitness folks will recognize that accessory as similar to a Pilates ring, something I did not know about until I researched the game, as those exercises were always too intimidating. 

The Joy-Con controllers are surprisingly accurate at detecting motion, and tracking your form, and the game rewards you for performing movements correctly, dealing more damage to enemies if you, say, squeeze deeply (and hold for the correct amount of time) in the Thigh Press exercise. As I jog in place in the game, and work up a mighty sweat, I want to do as few of the exercises as possible, and beat the levels in as few routines as I need to. 

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Ring Fit Adventure was so good that I responded highly positively when my colleague Philip Tracy of Laptop Mag asked if he should get one. Phil agreed with me about the precision, saying "What surprised me most is how sensitive the controllers are to your movements. The game tells you when you need to correct your form so you get the most out of your workout."

Ring Fit Adventure is the least intimidating thing, though, thanks in part to its incredibly corny nature. The game is literally played like a role-playing game, in which you gain new exercises that are more powerful, drink smoothies to heal yourself and buy and wear new fitness gear to increase your defense. Oh, and the ring you exercise with is manifested on screen as a magical talking object named Ring who speaks nearly entirely in puns. 

Ring Fit Adventure even color-codes its attacks and baddies, grouping legwork under blue, abs-focused routines as yellow, arm-based exercises as red and yoga-like spots as green. If you match the exercise to the villain, you deal more damage, and you can even enhance your attack power by drinking a matching-colored smoothie. 

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Combine more sleep with the rush of endorphins I get when exercising before work in the morning, and I'm often literally feeling like a different person sometimes.

But before you know it Ring Fit Adventure, which Phil said looks "like an easy kids game," has your body sweating as much as your on screen avatar. And Phil's also finding himself feeling the burn at the end of the day, "now I'm going to bed with sore arms and burning legs — and the feeling that my body is getting the exercise it needs."

And if you think numbers speak louder than emotions, let's go through the readings I got from my Apple Watch Series 5. On average, my walks during August burned 281.5 active calories in 45 minutes and 5 seconds, while my Ring Fit Adventure sessions averaged 30 minutes and 19 seconds, burning 378 active calories per session. So, if you're finding time harder to come by now than it was before, Ring Fit Adventure will help you do more with less.

Ring Fit Adventure rang in results immediately 

I didn't think Ring Fit Adventure would actually cure my back problems, but I noticed most of the stiffness disappeared in the first few days of re-acquainting myself with the game. I'm not 100% quite yet, but the combination of the game's pre-workout stretches and its pretty-tough workouts seem to have done the trick in restoring some of my limber-ness and flexibility.

(Image credit: Nintendo)

A bigger shock came when I noticed a new pattern in my sleep tracking app (AutoSleep, $3.99 for Apple Watch). During the pandemic months, my sleep had been terrible, and it turns out I might have been tired enough because of (you guessed it) a lack of movement and exercise, leading to restless nights.

While I had tried to change up my sleep patterns — try and sleep earlier, have less distractions in my room, even take melatonin — nothing really worked. But after I got hooked on Ring Fit Adventure, I was sleeping 2.5 to 3.5 hours longer. And in the last 8 nights, I've slept at least 6.5 hours per night (even hitting 8 hours and 22 minutes once).

Combine more sleep with the rush of endorphins I get when exercising before work in the morning, and I'm often literally feeling like a different person sometimes. Sure, I have my fair share of weight I'd like to lose, but Ring Fit Adventure has been a life-changing experience so far, and I know weight loss will come with more work.

Ring Fit Adventure gets addictive, but don't overdo it

The one issue I have with Ring Fit Adventure is possibly more my own flaw than the game’s. When I was really getting in my groove with the game, and starting to feel the positive impacts in my back and sleep, I thought "why not do more?"

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I started playing Ring Fit Adventure for about 25 minutes or so, before and after work. Two-a-days, as they're called. And then the bridge of my right foot started to hurt, as did my right knee. I've previously associated this with over-exerting myself in the past, as I've loved walking around New York City, and I've often walked the Manhattan Bridge to get to the Alamo Drafthouse theater in Brooklyn, rather than just take the subway. 

(Image credit: Future)

So I took a break from Ring Fit Adventure, until I could put more pressure on my foot and knee. A few days later, I started a once-daily (pre-work) routine with the game, and I'm still seeing all the health-improving upsides I found with the game at first. Ring Fit Adventure warns you about doing too much, but I was just too happy with the results and too confident in myself to listen.

Also, a word of caution. When you get to the mini-game that asks you to do Mountain Climbers, don't go at the pace of the on-screen visual if it seems too hard. 

This was one of the exercises that I think tripped me up the worst and may have exacerbated my foot issues. Try going at the pace shown in this video:

Bottom line

As with all things fitness, I'm reminded of the fine print seen in most automobile commercials: "your mileage may vary.". But for me, Ring Fit Adventure has become an indispensable part of my day. 

Right now, I'm at world 5 out of 23, which means this should keep me going through the rest of the summer. After that, there are another 46 worlds (for a total of 69) which repeat the worlds from the main story, but with new dialogue and increased difficulty. I don't know if I'll hit an "end" of Ring Fit Adventure, as it also has exercises and routines that are outside of its storylines. 

Am I over-hyping Ring Fit Adventure? I'm trying not to. It can't clear your debt and skin at the same time. But if you've had a slothy summer during the COVID-19 pandemic, this game might be exactly what you need. It's sure as heck what I needed.

Henry T. Casey
Managing Editor (Entertainment, Streaming)

Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.