Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wii LOVE Fit

Our last home was less than a mile from a glorious greenway, so (weather permitting) Jim would bike the misty trail every morning before work.

My own exercise predilections tend to involve less interaction with pollen and sunshine. Indoor pools and instructor lead classes in yoga and other group exercise have been hallmarks of my own exercise since graduating college.

Sometimes Jim and I meet in the middle. With enough allergy medicine, I'll play outside if there is water and/or shade involved: kayaking and hiking through woods. Jim will join in indoor group fitness as long as it's interactive and mildly competitive (even if we're not good at it): years of social dance classes.

Even when hail and lightning straight out of King Lear pounded the greenway, he was never tempted to break out one of my yoga videos for some centered breathing. In retrospect, the only fitness video I can ever remember him doing was a fun baby and toddler yoga video hosted by a French anthropologist who is probably Ranger's first crush.

So when I saw the Wii Fit at Camp Baby's Nintendo Party in April, I thought how Ranger might enjoy its physical interactivity. It struck me as something in my exercise domain and most likely outside of Jim's interest.

Was I ever wrong. Last week Nintendo sent us a Wii Fit (around $89 including balance board) to try at home. Ranger and I played for a couple hours before Jim was home from work. After dinner Jim tried it for the first time and he's been pretty devoted to using it daily ever since.

Not only is he enjoying the fun, arcade-like balance games, he's really gotten into the yoga, aerobics, and strength training. So, I asked him why this engaged him in a way that exercise videos never have.

His first answer was that he loves the graphs of his daily progress (time spent exercising, BMI changes, etc.). When it comes to exercise, Jim loves to see charted progress. It turned out to be more than that though. He really liked being able to work for higher levels of achievement with each exercise (you're scored with a certain number of stars at the end of each activity to represent your skill level for that particular round). This transcends the one-way communication of exercise videos. Videos can't tell whether you're doing the sun salute or sitting on the couch eating ice cream much less whether you're actually burning calories.

Secretly, I believe that the answer to his affinity has been part of his cerebellum back in the days of Konami's Contra for NES or maybe as early as his first meeting with a Pong console or Space Invaders. Children of the 70s just cannot resist the siren's song of electronic interactivity.

Jim's Take on the Wii Fit:

You know something is up if I am breaking my regular silence to add more than the occasional editing to a post on Baby Toolkit.

Put simply I am a fan of the Fit.

I wasn't so sure that I would like it at first, but I heard nice reports from Adrienne after she set it up and she and Ranger explored its features before I got home.

That night I got my first opportunity to take the balance board out for a spin. The first steps include setting up a profile including your name, height, birthday and associating them with your Mii (the little Nintendo Wii avatar that ostensibly looks like you and is used in many Nintendo game titles).

If you don't have a Nintendo Wii or haven't taken the opportunity to create a Mii, the creation process basically encompasses choosing a basic body type and facial features and hairstyles to come up with some sort of approximation of your actual appearance (if you choose to go that route). Being a B-I-G guy, I choose the largest body type available in the Mii creation phase - yes, it was embarrassing, but I figured who was I kidding. Which leads me to my first slightly embarrassing moment with Wii Fit.

After putting in my basic profile information and associating it with the maximally sized Mii avatar that I had already created, the Mii had me step on the balance board and take some initial measurements (wieght and your Center of Balance (CoB). Then, using the weight measurement, it calculated my Body Mass Index (BMI) based on my height and weight. When Wii Fit displays your BMI score (with ranges from underweight to obese), it then sees fit to adapt your Mii's body shape to match its actual measurement.

So. Having already gone through the mild embarrassment of choosing the largest body type available when I created my original Mii, I was a little surprised that my Wii Fit (empowered?) Mii ballooned well past that image.

Talk about a motivator to lose weight. I am not fine with being overweight (I am a Systems Administrator who spends a LOT of time surfing a desk) and I haven't resigned myself to it, but I have come to have a healthy acceptance of who I am and what my weight means in that equation. But, to push the limits of a game's ability to display my virtual self...

That's kind of hard to take.

And there may be some controversy in that little wake up call given that the BMI measurement can't take into account muscle makeup or bone density when deciding where one lies in the fitness scale. A totally ripped 5'9" muscular 280 pound, athletic trainer might show up as obese on the Fit's BMI scale.

But I won't lie, my density isn't muscle based... even if my Mom always said that I was "big boned."

After the initial measurements and a few general balance tests, the Fit assigns each user a Wii Fit Age (kind of like the Nintendo DS' Brain Age game's Brain Age). My initial age was 48; over a decade past my actual age. Sometimes, especially after mowing our yards situated on a 45% slope, I feel like I am 90, so I was actually encouraged by the number. It could have been worse. As it stands, I believe the Fit Age is meant to be just another motivator; as if my husky avatar wasn't enough.

The Fit is all about motivation. It includes charts tracking how often you use the Fit, how much and what activities you have tried on (and off if you want to track extra-curricular activity as well) the Fit, and what resulting changes you have seen in your weight and BMI. In every fitness schedule that I have attempted in the past, the only ones that have been successful for me have been those where I have regular charted my weight, activity, and sometimes calorie intake in various spreadsheets I created for the task.

What I love about the Wii Fit is that it takes care of all (well, almost all... there is no calorie counting in this incarnation) of this charting for me. It makes it easy to watch your progress over time and see long term trends related to your activity levels and overall weight gains and losses. You can go back over chart history and see if any weight gain is a temporary blip in an overall downward trend or the start of a more permanent up tic and, most importantly, react accordingly.

The fitness activities available through the Wii Fit are parceled out over the long haul. You simply can't do everything at first. They start you out slow from a selection of Balance Games, Aerobics, Yoga, and Strength training. As you rack up minutes on the Fit, more activities, and more repetitions and durations of already unlocked activities will be unlocked.

I think the idea is to start the user out slow and and allow them to work up to harder routines. Its a noble idea, but falls a bit flat as the user isn't actually locked out of an activity after attempting it (which is a good thing). So while you might only be able to initially do three reps of the the arm twists (with the advanced six reps coming after an hour or so of total Wii Fit use), if you really want to do more than three reps, you just have to restart the activity over and over interspersed with slightly annoying delays as you navigate the beginning menus of each activity.

Also, since I have been the primary user of the Wii, I have unlocked way more activities and settings than the rest of the family. Unfortunately, unlocking activities is not Wii Fit wide. It appears to occur per profile, meaning that each family member has to log long hours on the Fit in order to unlock all the available activities. Again, I think I understand the thinking (making sure novice users don't overdo it and pacing their learning of the Fit's basic techniques as well as providing another motivational element), but it is still slightly annoying in execution.

As for the activities, they range in quality, but overall I have enjoyed all that I have unlocked and tried. The Balance Games seem dubious in fitness value at first, but after a single thirty minute session where I focused solely on balance games, I noticed a definite muscle burn in my core trunk muscles and in my calves and shins.

The Yoga exercises have become an instant favorite. I enjoy the relaxation and calmness that comes from the deep breathing focus of each pose. The balance board helps you keep the proper form by measuring your balance, measured by keeping a small red dot inside a larger yellow circle onscreen, during each activity. As you correct your form, as prompted by your virtual trainer, it becomes easier to keep the red dot steady in the yellow circle. Stretching more, tightening the muscles identified by your trainers soothing voice, and maintaining your breathing, your initial jittery red dot will calm down and stabilize and (eventually) show the effectiveness of your pose.

Similarly, this simple feedback mechanism, in a number of clever variations, is used to great effect to improve your speed, accuracy, and general form in all the Wii Fit's activity modes. You end up getting a good workout.

Which brings me to another point. Wear something you'd wear to the gym while using the Wii Fit. Especially if you are out of shape. Because. You. Are. Going. To. Sweat.

A lot!

I have been using the Wii Fit for two and a half weeks for at least thirty minutes a day on an almost daily basis. In that time, I have seen a loss of roughly five pounds, a reduction in my perceived stress, and a bit of a boost in my overall energy levels; all the benefits that one is to expect from a regular exercise program. The fact the Wii offers plenty of motivational aids ranging from its charting capabilities to classic video game motivational aids like leaderboards and rankings has really helped me stay with the Fit as an exercise program and staying with any exercise program is key to long term well being. That alone makes the Wii Fit a success in my book.

So, while there are little annoyances here and there, I think the fact that the motivators within the Wii Fit have been effective in helping me keep with a regular routine is endorsement enough.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Thanks for the inspiring post. I may have to request a Wii Fit for my up coming birthday! I do have one question. When you purchase Wii Fit do you get everything you need or do you already need to have the Wii console? Thanks again!
kcassen @ mywdo dot com

adrienne said...

Hi Kara!

You do need a Wii console to use the Wii Fit. The balance board is just another wireless controller for the Wii.


Mimi-n-Moe's Mom said...

Sounds like so much fun...When are you having a Wii Fit party? :)

Kim Moldofsky said...

Wii love it, too. My family has shared many laughs and a bit of sweat over the Wii balance board. We also have some friendly competitions going. For example, I am the hula hoop queen of our bunch, with my 10 year-old son running a close second.

adrienne said...

Kim! I can't help but think of you every time someone at our house plays the penguin game (you really rocked that game at Camp Baby).

Let me know if you have wireless hooked up for your Wii- maybe we could have a virtual competition.