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Virtual Exercise

Virtual Exercise


Getting fit by playing video games is no longer an oxymoron. The new Wii Fit from Nintendo, with personalized training and entertaining activities, won't replace your exercise regimen, but it may be a lot more fun.

Back when I used to cruise MySpace profiles for fun, I had only one hard-and-fast rule: anyone who listed "working out" as their number 1 hobby wasn't worth knowing. I mean, working out? It had always seemed so tedious to me -- and that's probably why I hadn't set foot in a gym since college. I kept fit through running, content to maintain my skinny frame rather than build on it. Still, as my metabolism began to slow down with age, I wondered if I'd eventually have to bite the bullet and do something as boring as hitting the gym.

I may still have to, but until that dark day, I've got Wii Fit. As the latest attempt by Nintendo to bring video games into the mainstream, Wii Fit isn't a game in the conventional sense. Instead, it's an exercise program that's actually fun, powered by a new Wii peripheral called the Balance Board. The board -- about the size of a two bathroom scales -- is designed to track your balance and weight shifts through a variety of exercises, including yoga, strength training, and aerobics. If you quit your push-ups early or drop a leg while doing a yoga pose, the Balance Board will know.

All this could still be a bit of a drag if it weren't for Nintendo's ingenious presentation. The friendly, inviting interface -- complete with an anthropomorphized, talking Balance Board -- draws you in, while the calm encouragement of the on-screen personal trainers keeps you motivated. Even better, the Balance Board teaches you correct timing and posture (even providing an on-screen reticule to keep steady) so you won't injure yourself by relying too much on momentum or attempt an incorrect pose. A year ago I went through a hastily improvised sit-up phase that really hurt my lower back, so learning good form on these exercises was like having a real-life personal trainer.

Though the game makes only light suggestions on which exercises you should chain together, it provides a wealth of helpful graphs and bonuses to encourage daily use. Doing better on introductory exercises will unlock more reps, advanced routines, and fun balance games, while a customizable goal sheet monitors your progress toward an ideal weight and body mass index. Soon you'll feel bad if you skip a day -- as I did once, prompting a disappointed Balance Board to ask, "Too busy to work out yesterday, eh, Kyle?"

Wii Fit isn't always as full-fledged as you'd like it to be -- some of the bonus balance games fall flat, and hard-core exercise junkies might point out some omissions -- but it's a huge step into a brave new world for video games. If Wii Sports was a must-play for people who'd never picked up a controller, Wii Fit is a must-own for anyone too wary or poor to pick up a gym membership.

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Kyle Buchanan