Wii Fit offers exercise, fun for gamers

Adam Stewart

This past week I had my first opportunity to play Wii Fit. The game, which was released in stores in May of last year, is the first Nintendo has marketed as a “fitness” game. It has four training categories aimed at improving players’ muscle condition, balance, flexibility and aerobic capacity.

The Wii Fit, which sells for $89.99, comes complete with its own special balance board and the Wii Fit game disc. It has more than 40 fitness activities ranging from yoga and aerobics to balance and strength training.

Ever since the little white Wii hit the market, fans haven’t been able to get enough of its physically interactive games, which get players up off the couch and allows them to simulate games like boxing, bowling, baseball, golf and tennis.

Many retirement homes and hospitals have followed suit, using the motion-sensitive controllers for what has been dubbed “Wiihabilitation.”

For those not in the loop, the Nintendo Wii is a hardware/software package that allows gamers to play games and solve puzzles on a TV screen. But unlike traditional video game consoles, the Wii enables players to play by actively doing (more or less) what they would if they were playing the game for real.

In golf, for instance, the player swings the wireless control as if it were a golf club, and then watches the ball disappear down the fairway on screen.

I actually own a Wii, but do not own Wii Fit. This past Tuesday, however, I got my first chance to experience the virtual workout.

On the floor in front of the TV was the pressure-sensitive balance board, which is about the size of a bathroom scale. In fact, the first thing Wii Fit does is take the players weight. Along with your height and age, the game then works out the player’s body mass index (BMI). Mine was 19.36, but even Nintendo admits it’s not 100 percent accurate. I like to think my BMI was high because muscle weighs more than fat, but who knows.

Players are labeled underweight, normal, overweight or obese; the Wii then adds or subtracts the pounds to your hapless Mii, depending on what it finds. If you have a tubby Mii, Wii Fit offers an opportunity to decide weight-loss goals, and even creates a schedule to achieve them.

Once the initial embarrassment was over, it was time for the fun and sweat to begin.

Wii Fit divides its workout program into four categories: yoga, strength training, aerobics and balance. A trainer, players get a choice of male or female, leads the first two groups, while the latter two are filled with games that feel more like, well, games.

After some basic balance exercises in which I am revealed to be fundamentally lopsided, the machine computes my “Wii age.” It was 31 (my actual age is 24).

For the next hour I submit myself to a series of sometimes challenging, sometimes exciting, often humiliating exertions. I try some skiing, first the slalom, then a jump. Neither is real successful. Then, I try to keep one hula-hoop in motion while attempting to catch others. It’s all about minute transfers of weight, rhythm and fluidity of the pelvis, much like dancing.

Next, I moved on to heading a soccer ball, where I had to bend and lean on the balance board to connect with incoming soccer balls. Occasionally, a boot rather than a ball will smack players in the face unless they dodge it. My heading wasn’t bad. Yoga was next, and I found out I’m not bad at standing on one leg.

Finally, the macho stuff, thigh bends, press-ups, stuff that requires brute strength instead of finesse. I can admit this final part was somewhat difficult. I finished sufficiently sweaty and a little out of breath.

Wii Fit does its best to motivate users, but it’s pretty easy to cheat. To counteract cheaters, Wii Fit works on a rewards system. The more Wii Fit is used, the more varied the activities.

Overall, Wii Fit is what people make it. Users who want to work up a sweat will. Will Wii Fit help a chubby gamer lose 50 pounds? Probably not. But it could be the gateway game that gets players up on the balance board to better health.

Numbers game

1,830 calories; the average amount of calories burnt a week by children using the Wii console (based on a 12.2hour average gaming week)

130 beats a minute; the heart rate children can reach while playing Wii, compared with 83 beats a minute when playing sedentary games

27 pounds; the weight loss you could achieve over a year by playing Wii Sports for 12.2 hours a week.

SOURCE: Figures taken from a study by Liverpool John Moores University into the effect of playing Wii Sports