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A Wii Bit of Help With Your Workout


I mentioned in my previous column that Nintendo was about to unleash their next video game sensation, and it's proven to be just that. At the time of this writing (May 26, 2008) most retailers are out of stock and awaiting second shipments of Wii Fit, seen by many as an attractive way to mix exercise and video games together.


Fortunately, I was at the right place 15 minutes before the right time, and got my hands on one of the cool green boxes on the day of its release. However, after bringing it home, I couldn't get near it for the next couple of days -- my kids and their friends were lined up waiting to try their hand at virtual aerobics and the many "mini-games" the Wii Fit package offered.


By the end of the second day, my wife was complaining that our family room smelled like a gymnasium. I suppose we shouldn't complain, the kids were getting a great workout and having fun at the same time.


Finally, early on Saturday morning while the adolescents were still tanking up on their beauty sleep, I quietly made my way downstairs where I had my first experience with Wii Fit.


(I wish there was a better word to describe this title than "game," but seeing as that is what most people relate anything Nintendo to, I will continue with that description.)


Powering up the Wii, I inserted the disk that comes with the balance board -- a white rectangular device that in reality is a maxed-out bathroom scale that wirelessly communicates with your Wii. After entering my weight and height, I was presented with a body mass index value (BMI), a figure that combines your weight and height.


Yes, it's a little personal, but the Wii Fit software's greatest asset is its ability to track your BMI as you progress with exercises. At this point, I'm just a little into the overweight range (just barely... really!). Now I have the option of setting a weight goal where I can indicate how much I would like to lose and how long I want to take to do it. I can also set a password so only I can see my data. I'm sure the difficulty of having to face up to being a tad pudgy will be much easier when my little on-screen Mii is jumping for joy because I've lost a few pounds... I can only hope.


After going through the registration and weigh-in, I'm ready to start with some of the real work. Wii Fit offers activities that fall into four categories: Yoga, strength training, aerobics and balance. There is no particular path through these groups that you must follow, allowing you to customize your workout to your needs.


Most of Wii Fit's activities make use of the balance board, which is able to individually detect the weight bearing down on both of your legs and can also sense your balance between front and back. Good balance in Wii Fit's "mind" equates to respectable posture and is indicative of proper core muscle tone. I'm no fitness expert, so I'm not certain how valid that conclusion is, but I was happy when it told me my Wii Fit age was two years younger than I was -- simply because I was able to keep a little red dot hovering in the perfect spot that indicates I have equal loads on both legs.


To begin, I started in yoga. I have done some yoga with a professional trainer, but am far from advanced. The game started me off with some basic poses that helped me loosen up.


Moving on from there, I gave the strength training a go. This is where my blubber really meets the road! After a few push-ups and leg extensions, I moved on to the aerobics division.


Gyrating in place, I'm declared a "Calorie Roaster" after spinning a few virtual Hula-Hoops around my waist for a few minutes. Next I go for a run, which is tracked by taking one of the Wii remotes and putting it in my pocket where it acts as a pedometer. Another activity is a lot like Dance, Dance Revolution where you step on and off the balance board in precise time with a musical track.


I didn't spend much of my time in balance section -- that's where most of the "fun" games are that my kids have enjoyed. There you can return soccer balls flying toward your head, go skiing, or become a virtual penguin and slide down ice slopes.


So is this cool little gizmo worth its $90 price tag? I wish I could give you a simple answer...


First, there is nothing the Wii Fit allows you to do that you couldn't accomplish without it. But it is definitely more fun and motivating. I also feel it helps you to be more precise with some exercises -- especially the yoga poses. It will prompt you if you aren't properly balanced, and that allows you to refine your position and get more out of your effort.


The charts and calendaring option will automatically keep track of your progress. Certainly a notebook and weigh scale would do the same thing, but with Wii Fit, you just step on it and it handles the paperwork for you.


For adults who are already heavily into exercise with gym memberships, I don't know if Wii Fit will pay off as well. You certainly can get a workout with the device, but hardcore fitness buffs will likely find the experience a little tedious.


When it comes to your children, you may need to have a different perspective. Even if you have active kids, there's a good chance that if you already have a Wii in your home, they enjoy playing video games. I think anytime a game company comes up with a new way for kids to be active while gaming, it's a win-win situation. Although the games bundled with Wii Fit are somewhat simple, Nintendo has already announced plans for future titles that will make use of the balance board, so you can look forward to getting more from your investment -- and paying more too, of course!


There are a couple of negatives parents should be aware of. First, the balance board isn't indestructible, and the software goes to great lengths to remind you not to jump on it. The device has a 330-pound weigh limit, so if your 70-pound child does a hop or two, I don't think it would destroy it. However, get a 16-year-old on it and it may not survive. A few of the games, like the tightrope walk, do have activities where it just feels natural to jump and avoid oncoming objects. Instead, the game instructs you to bend our knees and do more of a lunge movement. That sounds good on paper, but will it really happen?


Finally, a story has already hit the wires from England where a father was incensed that the Wii Fit told his daughter she was "fat." Nowhere in the game does it label you fat, however, BMI calculations may not be accurate for young children. In these days of kids and teens fretting about their body image, parents may want to intervene during the weigh-in process to make sure the information appears accurate.


Overall, I feel the price is worth the outcome. We live in a part of Canada where we have 10 months of winter and 2 months of poor snowshoeing weather. Okay, that's an old Canadian joke -- it's really not quite that bad, but it is nice to have yet another indoor option that is a fun way for all of us to put a little more physical activity into our lives.


Rod Gustafson

Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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