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Dec. 22 2009 - 8:12 am | 1,026 views | 1 recommendation | 13 comments

If you’re fat, Wii Fit isn’t it

A fitness trainer demonstrates exercising with...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

I remember the exact day I quit playing video games.  I was diligently training my virtual character in The Sims by having him lift weights, practice piano, and play chess.  It took actual time to do this; I had to sit there at the computer while my little guy made himself a better sim-human.  Fun.  It didn’t take me long to recognize the irony of the situation, and as soon as I did, I was finished with video games.

Video games are fine when they allow the player to live out some fantasy, like being a war hero, a rockstar, or a pro football player.  I get that.  Ideally, we’d work hard to achieve said fantasy in real life, but I get it.  Learning to be a Guitar Hero is a lot less work (and hurts your fingers a lot less) than learning to play a real guitar.  But when you’re standing in your living room literally swinging a virtual tennis racket or pretend-bowling like the Wii allows you to do, there’s a pretty obvious question that it seems nobody’s asking.

Why not actually — gasp — do the stuff?

There’s a real public tennis court down the street, and for ten bucks you can roll a real bowling ball into real pins and wear real bowling shoes and eat real bowling alley pizza.  It’s a little harder, and you can’t do it in your underwear, but trust me, you can do it.

And that’s where I’m going with Wii Fit.  It absolutely kills me to hear my wife’s friend say she’s dying to get a Wii Fit for Christmas so she can get in shape.  With Wii Fit, you’re doing less effective versions of the same stuff real people do in real gyms in real classes.  And don’t give me price.  Wii Fit might be a little cheaper than a few months’ membership at a posh gym, but you can spend the 89 bucks on a pair of running shoes and get 500 miles out of them.  I’ll let you decide which would do more to change your life, the miles or the microchips.

But my point with this post isn’t to construct a bulletproof argument against buying the Wii Fit.  It’s to point out the distinction between really wanting to get in shape, and really wanting to buy something so that you can get in shape.

It’s the same with all the infomercial fitness equipment: If only I had the AbRocket, the Gazelle, or that thing that Chuck Norris sells, I’d get in shape.  It would be so easy then!

But the immutable fact remains — exercising is hard.  Nothing is going to change that, no matter the cost.  Once you get used to it, it gets easier, and eventually it’s fun.  But if it’s lots of fun from the very beginning, like I imagine Wii Fit is, then something’s wrong.  If whatever you’re doing is really working, it won’t be quite so much fun, because it will hurt.  Sorry, that’s how it is.

It’s so much easier to spend money than it is to really make a change.  As New Year’s approaches and you think about change, note whether your proposed change depends on buying something first.  Or finishing your last pack or case or bottle.  Or even waiting until the earth crosses an arbitrary starting line to begin its next trip around the sun.  When change lasts, it’s because you’re so sick of living the other way that you refuse to do it another minute.  You hit a threshold, it suddenly becomes more painful to keep doing it than to change, and then you change.  You throw out your cigarettes or you go for a run.

You don’t wait.  You don’t buy a video game.  You just change.


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  1. collapse expand

    I wouldn’t completely dismiss the Wii Fit. It’s worthwhile if you’re just starting to exercise, or you want something convenient in your house because, for whatever reason (work commitment, kids, etc.) you can’t make it to a gym or tear yourself away from home on a regular basis. It happens.

    It also can help someone figure out what sort of exercises he or she might enjoy. My 10-year-old daughter went from Wii Fit yoga to real yoga classes once she learned how much she enjoyed it after playing Wii Fit.

    I don’t know you wife’s friend (or your wife, or you), but if she doesn’t already exercise on a regular basis, Wii Fit could be an encouraging way to get her started, and an easier way to break away to exercise. If she keeps at it, she’s going to have the desire to do more than a video game can offer.

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    I completely agree with Bob. Wii Fit is not designed for people who are already at a higher than average level of physical activity; it’s for the total couch potato or kids who aren’t otherwise inclined or ready for something more intensive. Gyms come with a lot of intimidation, real or imagined, for the out of shape. “Just going for a run” sounds dead easy to someone who runs, but to a beginner it usually ends quickly with over-exertion by muscles not properly warmed up.

    I personally do yoga and pilates regularly, and have been a gym guy in previous years as well as a runner and in martial arts. I bought a Wii Fit because I’m a software designer and wanted to see how Nintendo had brought physical exercise into a gaming platform. The guides are very gentle and encouraging, help people set goals and adapt when the goal isn’t met. It also does things that aren’t possible in regular exercise, like provide visual feedback on centre of balance – something I find really informative for standing yoga poses.

    What really motivated me to comment though was the arrogance of one’s own context in evaluating the Wii Fit. The idea that ‘anyone can pick up shoes and go for a run’ is like ‘anyone can stop smoking because I did cold turkey’ or ‘anyone can get out of being poor because I got a job at 15′ and so on. Do you run or go to the gym? Good for you, count yourself lucky, because there are legions of people out there who have both physical and psychological barriers to being more active. And the moment there’s a product made for them, there’s someone knocking it for being too easy or somehow not real.

  3. collapse expand

    You’re right…no equipment or membership is going to make a difference by itself. However, WiiFit, used correctly, is the real deal. (I have tried it and I know.) Like anything, if it works for you, I can’t knock it.

  4. collapse expand

    And instead of having “friends” on Facebook, why not actually–gasp–go spend time with actual people.

    Or do you think that goes too far?

  5. collapse expand

    > instead of having “friends” on Facebook, why not actually–gasp–go spend time with actual people

    I don’t have recent numbers but I believe most Facebook relationships are mirrored in real life. People use Facebook, like Twitter, to stay aware of what is happening in each other’s lives. When they do meet up in person, they’ve already ‘caught up’ on the small happenings, and discussions tend to focus in on the most significant developments or the parts that didn’t make it into the public conversation. The result can be better conversations face to face and deeper connections over those things not openly shared.

    That’s not to say there aren’t downsides to social networking tools, but to frame them as trading the real for the virtual misses a lot of the point.

  6. collapse expand

    I gave up running about seven years ago, the knees were done and the operation removed the spring. Tennis, squash and racquetball also sidelined however I still bowl on occasion and go to a gym. It is all quite separate from wii fit. Wii is a video game and it is quite fun…few of the activities will result in getting in shape but I agree with Mr. Cook mine brother in law who suffers from arthritis loves the bowling game and it did get him to a real bowling alley and many who get no exercise at all do find time to play fitness games and work up a small sweat. Better than nothing I say. I love the boxing games which can work up a good sweat.

    If I may, exercise is also not the route for trimming unless one is working at a serious training level. Exercise provides health in generous doses and I highly recommend it for that purpose…but for weight, no junk, little sugar and salt, lots of veggies and fruit, small meals throughout the day and don’t lose more than a couple pounds a week.

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    Why look at this in such black and white terms? I’m a regular at spinning, biking outside and when there’s snow, cross country skiing. But I like Wii fit because it’s an easy and fun way to add some strength training to the mix, especially on evenings when my husband is out and I’m here with the kids and can’t get out. It’s not a miracle maker, that’s for sure, but all the feedback is distracting and fun enough to make push-ups and sit-ups a lot less boring. Lighten up!

  8. collapse expand

    I’m like Karen, I go to the gym regularly and to spin classes and I still want the Wii Fit.But I also see where Matt is coming from and sort of agree. I want the Wii fit because it looks like something fun to do on a lazy day. But I agree that a lot of people are depending on the wii fit to morph them into excellent shape without doing much else. I LOVE working out at the gym and actually going to spinning and pilates classes because other people are there doing the same thing and that’s motivating. If you’re waiting on a video game to help you get in shape, you really need to just stop and get your butt to the gym instead. :-)

    Matt, I really like this article. It’s very well written and you argue your point effectively.

  9. collapse expand

    This is hilarious because my sister is wanting WiiFit. However she is a dance teacher so she gets her exercise. She could get out there and run though. I think she needs to. I feel bad though, I contributed to her laziness by buying her a game for the Wii my parents got for her.

  10. collapse expand

    Matt, Thank you for pointing out a really often over-looked distinction! I think this is all rooted in this cultural perspective that we can buy ourselves a better body, rather than work at it. That a fancy new gadget is somehow better for us than actual work. You know something’s wrong when you start hearing the excuse, “Well, I’ll start getting in shape as soon as my Wii Fit/Gazelle/Bowflex gets in!” We wait for a product to signify the start to a lifestyle change. And this is why, more often than not, four months down the road that Gazelle functions more as a laundry drying rack than an exercise machine.

    I mean, I’ll admit I’ve gotten a great upper body workout using Wii boxing– and wouldn’t actually step in a ring– but let’s be honest: Wii Fit can’t replace actual exercise. Exercise is a lifestyle, Wii Fit is a product. Perhaps it’s not necessarily an issue of one being better than the other. More accurately, the prevalence of Wii Fit is testament to the cultural phenomena of consumerism.

  11. collapse expand

    I’d like to see Wii/PS3/XBox/Bluetooth/USB-enabled exercise gear, particularly rowers/ellipticals/bicycles, that would enable doing stuff like keeping long-term stats, challenges, even multiplayer exercise!

    I believe high-end big dollar health club gear has some of that, but it should be pushed down to the home gym stuff.

    Who knows, have soldering iron, will hack ;)

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Running Shorts is a part of the True/Slant network specializing in Running News, Trends, Insights and Perspectives. This blog is maintained by Megan Kretz (megan [dot] kretz [at] gmail [dot] com) and Geoff Decker (geoffreydecker [at] gmail [dot] com). Email either us with tips, suggestions or feedback. And thanks for reading!

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