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11/09/2008 Family Family Gamer Article
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In our family Wii-Fit is in danger of loosing its place in the living room. I decided to call on fellow Game People writer, Fit Gamer Luke Pyper, for some personal trainer flavoured advice. The conversation turned out well and he helped me understand why we find it hard to maintain our enthusiasm for exercise. With his top tips under our belt we have returned to regular sessions on the balance board with a renewed zest for fitness (and a diminshed concern for weightloss).

It's only natural to be wary of fad technology. Things move so quickly that last year's must have gift is soon gathering dust under the TV. Nintendo's innovation with the Wii often comes under criticism for being a passing phase. So far though it seems to be holding its own a good couple of years after launch.

At the start of 2008, Wii-Fit was released combining technology and exercise, and became an essential purchase for many families. But this combination of exercise and technology is a tricky one. Technology's faddy-ness and our inability to sustain exercise (not to mention the urban cliche of unused Gym membership) means that Wii-Fit is likely to start gathering dust.

To properly understand why Wii-Fit turned from saviour of our fitness goals into a handy plant stand we must start with the first principle of why we brought it in the first place. Pyper suggests that "most people are not too concerned at how much they weigh, don't care what their BMI is". They are however "driven by the promise of a trim, attractive body without all the flabby bits". The problem here is that there is a cost, we actually have to put the work in over an extended period. The effort is required immediately but the results won't be seen for some time.

This is the danger zone when many of us give up. Whilst the play side of Wii-Fit certainly encourages us to come back for more, as Pyper pragmatically puts it "the gaming aspect of Wii-Fit is just not engaging enough. Before long you have unlocked all the activities and all you are left with are some graphs to keep you going".

"But", says Pyper, "with the right advice there's no reason why Wii-Fit cannot be a central point of reference in your journey to the athletic, supple body you desire. I have been using Wii-Fit for a while now with my fitness clients, and have seen these problems come and go. Let's look at the five top tips that I use to keep them on track".

Tip 1: Be Accurate.

We have all heard the stories of people being upset by Wii-Fit's overweight (or even obese) classification of them. We have seen the investigative TV reports taking Wii-Fit to people's houses and proving the balance board gives inaccurate weight readings. This is a real problem. Accuracy is King when it comes to exercise. If Wii-Fit cannot weigh you correctly then how can we trust and be motivated by the graphs it generates? Just as we need to trust our real world personal trainers skill and accuracy, so too we need to develop a similar relationship with the various technology that to some extent takes their place.

A solution is at hand though, once properly setup Wii-Fit should yield a solid and repeatable set of readings. Pyper points out that any equipment he uses with his clients has to be correctly setup. "Take a look at the images Nintendo have used to advertise Wii-Fit. It is always standing on hard, flat wooden floor". There is no two ways about it, carpet is a poor surface for scales and therefore bad too for Wii-Fit.

As well as getting Wii-Fit setup on a hard surface, for real accuracy you also need to use it the same time each day. Ideally this should be first thing in the morning, once your body has had time to recover from the previous day's exertions and get itself into balance. As Pyper suggests, "It may sound boring but this is essentially science we are conducting here, and to be excited about the results we need to ensure they are accurate and repeatable."

Tip 2: Be Prepared

Our busy lives mean that games have to be slotted into the time available. This can make our playing sporadic and chaotic, and inevitably make it easy for us to avoid exercise. Instead of turning on the Wii, we turn on the TV. Instead of working out we are playing Mario Kart. As Pyper highlights, "this is a problem, because if it's a conscious effort to use Wii-Fit we'll never get enough 'board time' to see any physical benefits'.

He suggests that before we even step onto the board for the first time we write down a plan. As he puts it, "decide when you can use Wii-Fit as part of your daily routine. It may be half an hour before you go to work or an hour when you get home. Exercise raises your metabolism, so try to fit it in before you eat so less of the food turns to fat".

Another suggestion is to ensure that, if the Wii is used for other games (we're guessing it is), ensure the Wii-Fit disc is back in the Wii when you finish. Pyper even suggests that we "throw away the case entirely so the only home for the disc is in the Wii". Just as we need to setup our exercising environment, we also need to setup our technology to minimise the barrier to getting on and working out.

Tip 3: Get Real

Most of us decided to buy Wii-Fit from news articles or having a go on someone else's. These articles hook into the quick fix nature of our culture and tell of their discovery of this new gadget to make achieving your fitness dreams a reality. "This is a problem" says Pyper, "because you are probably under the impression that an hour on Wii-Fit once a week will be enough to yield results".

Taking some time to read the game designer's advice for their product. They say that Wii-Fit will not make you fit, but it will make you aware of your body. To get Wii-Fit to work as a fitness and weight loss tool you have to work on your lifestyle and calorie consumption too. Pyper suggests that we "keep a count of the calories we eat, a doctor, dietician or personal trainer can help work out how much this should be". Along with watching our intake we should "take the healthy option with all our other activities, use the stairs instead of the elevator, or wash the car by hand instead of in an automatic car wash".

The bottom line is that we need to be realistic about what we can achieve, otherwise we will become disillusioned and give up.

Tip 4: Get Ready

Before doing any exercise or sport it's important to get our bodies ready. We need to tell it to prepare for some hard work and vigorous movement. If you have ever played Wii-Sports Boxing from a cold start you can probably attest to the strains and muscle pulls suffered the following day. This is a problem for Wii-Fit too because nothing stops even the most determined fitness fanatic in their tracks like an injury.

Happily, Wii-Fit provides a range of activities from the sedate to the down right energetic. Pyper suggests that "even if we love playing the heading or hula hooping to work up a sweat, we must first get our body ready". "Do some warming up with gentle stretches before hand" he continues, "or better still use the Yoga activities in Wii-Fit to do this for you".

In addition to preparing the exercise space and technology, preparing our bodies in the way not only ensures we will avoid injury but extends our exercise routine and results in more fitness benefits.

Tip 5: Get Fit not Thin!

The last piece of advice Pyper has for us is simple, "go for it and don't let anything put you off from beating your goals". We may find that our weight is not dropping off as quickly as we would like. But as Pyper keeps reminding us "be aware that most expectations of achievable weight lose is driven by adverts for pills and diets that often dehydrate you to show give the illusion of instant results". Weight loss is only a secondary response to exercise, and shouldn't really be our primary driver. General fitness is the first way our bodies react to regular exercise and this, rather than weight loss will be the first change we notice.

The problem though is that Wii-Fit does a poor job of measuring fitness. Our Wii age will bounce around with little regard to our exercising efforts. "A better way to measure fitness" Pyper says, "is to go out for a walk, a jog or a run once a week and get yourself out of breath. Then time how long it takes to regain normal breathing". The fitter we are the quicker we will recover from physical effort, and the better we will feel. And in turn, the more likely we are to keep using Wii-Fit.


There are no easy answers when it comes to exercise, but with this advice you should have a much better chance of persevering with Wii-Fit. As we said at the start we are battling the faddy aspects of both technology and exercise here. The majority will, for one reason or another, give up before too long. It's our hope that you join that happy minority of persevering fit gamers.

Written by Andy Robertson

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Andy Robertson writes the Family Gamer column.

"Videogame reviews for the whole family, not just the kids. I dig out videogame experiences to intrigue and interest grownups and children. This is post-hardcore gaming where accessibility, emotion and storytelling are as important as realism, explosions and bravado."

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