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Wii fit or fat?

Can the hot new videogame help you lose weight and get in shape?

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Finally I got it. After months of searching, scouring and reading about the Wii Fit, I managed to snag one at a Wal-Mart late one evening (probably right after a shipment came in). I had anticipated using this to get Me-Fit since hearing of its release. OK, I’m a fitness trainer, and I have to admit to already being in pretty good shape — but I was curious about this little white board and whether it lived up to the hype.

As soon as I plugged it in, I followed the directions and entered my age, height, weight and so on. It then proceeded to calculate my BMI. Wowee! All of a sudden I was obese — my little Mii character grows a waistline like no other, and I looked like a large plum on the screen. As calculated, my BMI was 31.3. Currently I’m 6-foot-4 and 257 pounds, and at least in my opinion I’m in fairly good shape, yet this little machine was calling me fat.

I soon found I wasn’t alone in being categorized unfairly. There have been some complaints on the national level about the game calling people fat. But the BMI is a very gross estimate that tends to penalize people with more muscle-mass, and it is especially inaccurate for children, so don’t worry too much if your Mii grows a spare tire.

Once I got over the fact that I was now proclaimed obese, I proceeded into the gaming aspect of the system. This is where it gets much better.  Wii Fit is a compilation of aerobic, balance, body-weight training and yoga-like movements; and, yes, they all require you to move — something most traditional videogames don’t require. From a game of soccer balls hitting your head to swinging your hips in an imaginary hula-hoop to the sheer joy of jogging in place as if running through the neighboring countryside, this little device makes possible a number of activities all from your living room TV.

As a fitness trainer, I really like a number of things about the Wii Fit:

  • It can encourage you to get up and move around, which can help jump-start your quest for fitness.
  • It can help you burn some extra calories.
  • It keeps track of your progress and charts your results, even helping you to set goals.
  • It offers a variety of activities that are fun and engaging — keeping you coming back for more and for longer periods of time.

These are all very good benefits and actually make this a pretty economical way for a beginner to get going on a fitness regimen. Yet, I have to admit, while I certainly commend the idea and even further praise the intentions of anyone making an effort to get in better shape using this device, I have to say after experiencing its full array of activities, it may not be the best long-term solution for permanent weight loss. The first and most glaring drawback is the machines’ weight limit: It won’t allow anyone more than 330 pounds to even play the game, let alone track progress or goals.

It certainly is more fun than going for a run or an intense session of resistance training, but it just doesn’t burn nearly the same number of calories. For anyone already engaged in an exercise program beyond basic body-weight movements or walking, the Wii Fit is probably nothing more than entertainment. But it does encourage general good habits of consistency and progress with your weight, since you can reassess your weight as often as you like, and your little Mii will grow or shrink accordingly.

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that this little machine will not eat for you. I have to stress again, your nutrition is far more important than any amount of exercise you can do. For example, an hour on the Wii Fit program may burn 100 to 300 calories, depending on what activities you are doing, but you can eat that back in about seven seconds with a granola bar or two. Any weight loss resulting from using the Wii Fit can more likely be attributed to starting a healthy eating program and using the regular “Wii-Fit exercise sessions” as extra motivation to “stay strong” on your eating. In my mind the final verdict is this: The Wii Fit may be a good tool for recreational-type exercise or for someone just getting started on a fitness program, but it just may not be a viable option for serious and permanent fitness results.

Zach Hunt is a fitness trainer in Spokane.