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Wii Fit's Role as 'Personal Trainer' continued...

With the growing epidemic of childhood obesity in the U.S., there is no doubt that the new system can help children shed excess weight and become more active. But it's not just for kids, Pasternak tells WebMD.

"Everybody is in the target audience," he says."I got beaten by a 9-year-old and a 72-year-old at hula hooping so far today." Still, he cautions, individuals with a pre-existing medical condition or those who have been sedentary should check with a doctor before beginning any new exercise program, even a virtual one.

(Read our reporter's test run of Wii Fit on the WebMD News Blog.)

Calorie Burners

First came Dance, Dance Revolution, a video arcade game where wannabe dancers follow on-screen visual cues as they step on a sensor pad to the beat of popular tunes. Dance, Dance Revolution -- or DDR -- is sort of a twist on the classic board game Twister, replete with several levels to match a person's dancing skills.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) conducted a study of this game on 24 people aged 12 to 25. All participants showed a marked increase in exercise intensity and burned a similar number of calories as they would if they were participating in other forms of aerobic activity.

"We found that Dance, Dance Revolution does burn a comparable amount of calories as other aerobic workouts," says ACE spokesman Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist in San Diego.

Games like Dance, Dance Revoultion and Wii Fit System put the fun back in exercise, and that is what has been missing, he tells WebMD. "So many people became disengaged because exercise seems to be work and not a pleasant experience. [Virtual exercise] has touched on a cord that is important in fitness and that is to make things fun."

The mantra, Comana says, is "let's keep them distracted so they stay engaged and do their workouts and don't think about sweating." While there are some downsides to virtual fitness, the benefits do outweigh any negatives, he says.

One potential downside is that these games are really just Band-aids, he says. "If I distract you with television to tolerate a workout, what happens if there is nothing to distract you? If we take away the balance pad or the iPod, you will go back to saying, 'I hate this.'"

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