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Can You Really Get Fit With Wii Exercise Games?

Experts weigh in on the value of video game exercise.
By Annabelle Robertson
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

If you've been wondering what all the fuss is with the new Wii exercise games, you're not alone. Wii Fit, the new component to the Wii gaming console, launched May 19 and has been getting lots of buzz. In fact, if sales in this country match those from abroad, you may have trouble finding one.

The brainchild of Shigero Myamoto -- the computer whiz behind Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong -- Wii Fit is aimed at everyone, says Nintendo. The company created the video exercise game to go with its original Wii console, which boasts virtual games of tennis, bowling, baseball, boxing, and golf. You need to own that Wii -- or buy one, for about $250 -- to be able to use Wii Fit. For an additional $90, you get a CD full of exercises, information, and the all-important balance board.

A 12-inch by 20-inch plastic slab that looks like a smaller version of the steps used in aerobic classes, the balance board is Wii Fit's main accessory. All the exercises (except running) are done on the board or next to it, and it senses whether you're correctly positioned. It even functions as a scale.

How the New Wii Fit Exercise Games Work

After booting up the software on your Wii console, you'll be instructed to create a "Mii"-- an avatar you personalize with a nickname, facial features, and body type to match your own, using the game's signature "wiimote." After entering your date of birth, sex, and height, you'll activate the balance board and step up for your first weigh-in. With the blare of a trumpet, the narrator will announce your weight, body mass index (BMI), and your "Wii fit age."

Be prepared to hear that you're "overweight" if you have large muscles. The BMI doesn't take lean muscle mass and body fat into consideration, after all. Also, don't be surprised if your "Wii fit age" is older than you are. Your "Wii fit age" is largely determined by how well, and how quickly, you do the initial Wii balance test, and does not take into consideration other factors like muscle strength or cardio endurance.

Balance is a key component to Wii Fit. It not only determines your Wii fitness level, but is also one of the four categories of Wii fitness games. Balance games consist of a ski slalom run, a ski jump, a table tilt, and soccer "heading," during which you butt the onscreen ball with your head.

"Many Wii Fit activities are directed towards a 'core' workout, a popular exercise method that emphasizes slower, controlled motions," explains Marc Franklin, director of public relations for Nintendo of America.

According to experts, however, balance -- especially the ability to stay poised on a board -- rarely reflects actual fitness ability.

"In terms of skill, balance, coordination and agility are important for our functional capabilities, but they don't equate to how fit a person is," says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, FACSM, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

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