Get up for it

Playing video games has long been synonymous with being a couch potato.

But the Nintendo Wii's latest game, Wii Fit, encourages gamers to get moving — and hula hoop, yoga and ”penguin slide.“

Wii Fit, which goes on sale Wednesday, is the latest offering in the trend of ”exergaming,“ a term that describes video games that induce exercise. Players use the Wii ­balance board to play — and exercise ­— with the various activities involving strength training, aerobics, yoga and balance games.

No longer does it ”have to be video game versus exercise,“ said Ben Sawyer, co-founder of Games for Health, a project of the Serious Games Initiative to develop a community and best-practices platform for the numerous games being built for health-care applications. ”Now it can be, "Which game?'“ Sawyer said.

Wii Fit retails for $90 and includes the balance board. Some local stores and online retailers filled their advance orders for the game weeks before its release.

Wii Fit has four modes and 40 activities. By playing the game often, players earn ”fit credits“ to unlock more exercises. The game charts weight and body-mass index through a personal profile.

Exergaming has been around for 25 years, but it started to pick up in the last five years with video games like Dance Dance Revolution and Sony's Kinetic. Players in Dance Dance Revolution step on different panels of a dance pad as directed by the video game. The Beaumont branch of the YMCA has Dance Dance Revolution in its youth fitness area.

Wii Fit takes the trend and accelerates it,“ Sawyer said.

Sharon Brown, associate professor of physical education and exercise science at Transylvania University, said she sees Wii Fit as being effective in four major aspects of fitness: cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance, flexibility and body composition (ratio of body fat to lean body mass).

But Wii Fit doesn't offer a lot in muscular strength, a major aspect of fitness, and in motor skills development that one could get in playing sports, she said. A good workout encompasses the intensity, the duration of a workout. A rule of thumb to follow is working out 20 minutes at a maximum heart rate range. Wii Fit has the potential to accomplish those attributes, Brown said, but she would recommend Wii Fit in addition to another primary form of exercise.

Jennifer Sizemore, an aerobics instructor in Lexington, says Wii Fit could help her in her personal training.

”I think anybody who works out or does any types of classes in the gym would be taken by this,“ she said. ”It would be a fun way to work out.“

Brown and Sawyer hope Wii Fit will attract those who do not regularly exercise, and Sawyer said Wii Fit ”can be critical“ in encouraging families to become active.

The variety of Wii Fit's exercise modes appeals to the ranges of interest in a household, he said. Wii Fit can ”bring workouts right into their home that are good, fun and family- and kid-oriented,“ he said.

Bill Gregory of Lexington is looking forward to getting Wii Fit for his family.

”When they're playing it, they won't be sitting,“ he said of his children. ”I'm planning to use it for them to get exercise without them really knowing it.“

But the true test of Wii Fit will be its sustainability beyond being the latest fitness technology.

”I think the only problem is that people will get bored with it over time,“ Brown said. She said the rowing machine and stair climbers were popular fitness machines, but now elliptical machines are more popular.

”I know they will come out with new games, new stimulating things, but we watched that trend through the years. ... It's not bad, but people like stimulation, they like change, something new. How long can they maintain that with new programs through the Wii? I'm not sure.“

Sawyer said he sees Wii Fit serving as a ”doorway for more exergaming.“ Players might take a second look at other exergaming titles, and there might be more software to support the Wii Fit board. And, he said, he hopes that people working in health professions will find more ways to use video gaming to promote health.