After one month with a Wii Fit

I've had my Wii Fit now for almost a month (it was released in April here in Europe). I know it's not directly related to food, but since a lot of people who visit Just Hungry are interested in fitness and weight loss, I thought I'd share my thoughts about it after using it for some time, especially since it just became available this week in the U.S. (Besides, way more people are likely to read it here than on my sporadically updated personal blog.)

Incidentally, I've written about the Wii as a fitness device previously on my personal blog, focusing on Wii Sports. In a nutshell I was not convinced that playing Wii Sports would do much to improve your fitness.

So, what about Wii Fit then?

Wii Fit is not really a game, especially not for kids

First of all, if you are looking to get this primarily for your kids, I would think twice. I do not think that the Wii Fit as it is is much of a game. Some of the games are fun for sure, but I can see a typical kid getting bored with them. Also, if your young child takes the Body Test and is told s/he is overweight, you'll want to talk to them and tell them that the measurements are not calibrated for children. (Of course if your child is actually overweight, you could use it judiciously as an incentive for them to lose weight perhaps.)

The audience for the Wii Fit package really is out of shape adults. If you are a dedicated couch potato who hates exercise but loves playing console games, the Wii Fit is perfect for you.

Of course, once Nintendo or third parties come out with games that take advantage of the balance board, things will be different.

Can you really get fit with Wii Fit?

I think you can, to a certain extent.

The Wii Fit balance board is rather like a sophisticated electronic scale. When you step on it, it senses your weight and weight distribution. So, at its most basic level you can use it as a weight and fitness tracking device. Every day you step on it, it records your weight and BMI. (You are represented, as with all Wii games, by your Mii. It really helps if you take a bit of time to make a Mii that looks like you.)

It has a built in diary function; it automatically tracks all the time you spend on WiiFit games or activities, and you can also record other physical activity if you want.

You can also use it to set various fitness goals such as weight loss. The program recommends what you should concentrate on; in my case it said I should focus on losing weight and lowering my BMI. Chances are if you are rather inactive and/or overweight, you'll get the same message too. (As soon as the Wii Fit got my weight, my Mii blimped up appropriately. Cute or annoying, depending on your mood.)

I do like the feedback and encouraging messages the Wii Fit dispenses. If you use it regularly it pats you on the head ("You are really commited to fitness!") and if you take a few days off it gently scolds you ("I haven't seen you in a while...") Your Mii also acts as a cheerleader of sorts for your efforts. It's all presented in the typical cute way of most Japanese appliances and software. If you love this style you'll love this aspect of the Wii Fit; and if you hate it...you probably don't own a Wii in the first place.

Wii Fit games or activities

The Wii Fit games or activities are divided into four categories:

  • Yoga
  • Muscle Training (strength training)
  • Aerobic
  • Balance games

With all the games or activities, the more you do them the more new games are unlocked.

For the first two, there is an onscreen trainer that guides you through the exercises. Since I have the European version of Wii, both 'trainers' have neutral British accents. I guess the U.S. version will have bland mid-western accents. The trainers are helpful without being too annoying.

Aerobic exercises are generally divided into jogging/running, hula hoop, step, and something called rhythm boxing. The jogging/running is not done on the board - the Wiimote is used as a sort of pedometer while you jog in place. No trainers appear for these activities - you follow the movements of other Miis.

Muscle training is done on and off the board. So far, the exercises I've unlocked use just use body weight for resistance - I'm not sure if more advanced exercises will require handweights or something, though that would be nice. Since the crux of the Wii Fit board is the balance board, a lot of emphasis is put on body balance. (I wonder if the term Metabolic Syndrome will become as popular in the U.S. and elsewhere as it has in Japan, where it's called metabo. In Japan it's come to mean 'a strong tendency to get fat'.)

Yoga is all done on the board, and uses the board's balance-sensing features heavily. I find some poses pretty hard to do in a way that keeps the program happy.

Balance games are really not fitness activities per se, but rather games where you can use your balancing capabilities to be a football (soccer) goalie, ice hockey goalie, ski jumper, and so on. These games would be fun for the kids too.

So has it worked for me?

A bit about me: I'm an approaching-middle-age (or maybe already there...), overweight, short woman who hated gym class in school. I have been exercising off and on though for health and weight loss, so I don't think I'm tragically out of shape at the moment. (I have been, so I know how that feels.) Oh, and I love Japanese-cuteness so that aspect of the Wii does not bother me at all. Your results may vary if you are different from me.

I do feel that it's a lot better for exercising than Wii Sports. The strength training and yoga in particular are good since you have the feedback from the board (and the onscreen trainer, who gets information from the board and tells you to stop wobbling and so on).

The aerobic exercises are fun, though I guess whether your heartrate actually goes up doing them depends on your fitness level. I did find some of the exercises like jogging to get quite monotonous (jogging in place is not much fun), while others have remained fun. (I'm partial to the step and rhythm boxing exercises, which require fairly nimble feet the more you progress.) If you already have other favorite aerobic activities, you could skip the Wii Fit ones (entering the exercise minutes in the diary if you want to) and concentrate on the other types of exercise.

If you are just terribly out of shape, the Wii Fit will get you off the couch and moving. The fitter you are already, the less effective it will be. But you could say that about almost any kind of exercise equipment I guess.

I started out using it every day; now I use it about 3 times a week (I do other exercise too) for about 40-45 minutes per session, not counting the time needed for weighing in and Body Tests. I feel it has helped my always problematic back stiffness quite a bit already. It's not a magical cure-all, but I'd recommend it for anyone who has a Wii already and wants to do a bit of exercise in a fun way.

How it compares to...

  • Wii Sports: I think it is a much more useful for fitness than Wii Sports, but Wii Sports is better for group play.
  • __Mario and Sonic At The Olympic Games__: Mario and Sonic is great for group play, but makes you feel like a dork if you play it alone. Jogging/running in Wii Fit is done for sustained time periods while the running on Mario and Sonic is generally done in spurts. As a game, Mario and Sonic is better I think, but for fitness Wii Fit is much better.
  • __Dance Dance Revolution__ (sold in Europe as Dancing Stage Hottest Party): As a piece of equipment the Wii Fit board is far superior to the plastic wired dance mat. The stepping/dancing on the balance board is more fitness-focused. The music is limited to the stock Nintendo-electronic variety (which will stay in your head for ages...). I'm looking forward to third party dance games that utilize the board. The DDR is, for now, a much better game, especially for more than one participant.
  • Exercising with fitness videos: The Wii Fit gives you lots of personalized feedback, which an exercise video can't do. In that sense it may keep you motivated more than passively watching some leotard-clad person on the screen. You'd probably get better, more sustained exercise, especially of the aerobic type, using fitness videos. I actually have settled into a pattern of using both depending on my mood.

Accessories, maintenance and so on

The only accessory you really need is a thin non-skid exercise mat to put under the balance board, especially if you have hard floors. This cushions your feet, hands and other body parts as well as the board. I use a thin rubber yoga mat that I had already.

I haven't gotten a cover for the board - I just wipe off the surface after each use. It can get a bit grungy, especially if people step on it with black socks or dirty bare feet. And people sweat on it too so...wiping it regularly is a good thing to do.

Extra battery chargers are useful to have too, if you and your family will use the board regularly.

Official Wii Fit site

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