Gaming Your Way to Fitness Video games designed to provide a workout are becoming big business. But do these games — such as the Wii Fit, which hits stores Monday — deliver on their fitness promises?
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Gaming Your Way to Fitness

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Gaming Your Way to Fitness

Gaming Your Way to Fitness

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

If it were possible for you to get fit in the next few minutes, these next two reports might do it. In a moment, we'll find out how two members of our own staff measure up against a new presidential fitness test. NPR's Allison Aubrey put them through their paces.

And she'll also report on the exercise you could get in front of your TV. Video games designed to provide a workout are becoming big business, so she attended a conference called Games for Health.

ALLISON AUBREY: There's been a lot of chatter that the Nintendo Wii motivates families to get up and move around. Next week, Nintendo releases in the U.S. an even more active set of games called Wii Fit. One of the games is a hula-hoop challenge.

Very good. You look ready. Your shoes are off.

The first player hops on the Wii balance board, where the game can sense all of his movements. We're in a packed demonstration hall at the Baltimore Convention Center. The player is Alastair Thin. He's a Scottish exercise physiologist attending the convention.

Dr. ALASTAIR THIN (Exercise Physiologist): I know what exercise is. I can measure exercise on a bike or treadmill.

AUBREY: But getting your heart rate up with a hula-hoop game? Well, let's find out. Gillian Laughren(ph) of Gaming4Health revs up the excitement with her play-by-plays for virtual characters.

Ms. GILLIAN LAUGHREN (Gaming4Health): Now watch this. People are throwing hula-hoops at him and he's hula-hooping, and he has to capture them on his head. There he goes. Will he catch it? I understand if you put out your arms it helps.

AUBREY: As he ducks and dives, Alastair Thin's performance begins to attract a crowd.

Ms. LAUGHREN: How many hula-hoops can he wear? He's up to three. Keeping three in motion.

AUBREY: When Thin hops off the board a few minutes later, he puts his finger to his wrist to take his pulse.

Dr. THIN: 156.

AUBREY: So your heart rate's 156?

Dr. THIN: That's hard exercise.

AUBREY: So tell me, how do you feel?

Dr. THIN: Yeah, a little bit breathless. (unintelligible)

AUBREY: All right. You started off with a dress shirt on, now you're down to a t-shirt.

Dr. THIN: I'm not used to this hot weather.

AUBREY: Alastair Thin has a funny name for an exercise physiologist. He teaches in a much cooler climate of Edinburgh, Scotland. For his students, the weather can be an obstacle to outdoor exercise at least part of the year. So when Wii Fit first hit store shelves in Great Britain last month, Thin was ready in his exercise lab to test it out. He bought two game consoles and recruited 11 students to try a bunch of games. Each of them wore a heart rate band so he could get measurements on how much of a workout they were really getting. And he made a video recording, starting with the Wii step-aerobics game.

Dr. THIN: You can see, a bit like the "Dance Dance Revolution," that the moves are being up on the screen there.

AUBREY: But Thin says students had a little trouble following the game, so their heart rates rose to the equivalent of a moderate walking pace. By comparison, he says, six minutes of hula-hooping got the students to the cusp of a moderately intense cardiovascular workout.

Dr. THIN: The whole thing is it's not just your hips. It's your arms, your shoulders, your legs, your ankles. Everything's working there, and you're exercising really pretty hard.

AUBREY: The point of XerGaming is that it's supposed to be more appealing than just walking or running on a treadmill. And when Thin surveyed his students they did report that it was fun.

What's unclear is whether they would have had the same experience without other students playing along. Was it the camaraderie or the competition that kept them going? These are the questions Thin wants to answer with additional research.

Dr. THIN: Well, that's why it's very important to get sort of good measurements as to just how much physical activity's involved.

AUBREY: Convincing studies could help push virtual gaming into more public spaces such as schools, gyms and recreation centers.

A company called XerGames Technology is already moving in that direction. At the conference, salesman David Monk demonstrates a thrilling game with their interactive Sportwall. It looks like a 12-foot electronic whack-a-mole game.

Mr. DAVID MONK (XerGames Technology): The sky's the limit on what you can do with this. Each panel can handle ten to twelve kids in a relay-style game, and it doesn't take up any space. It only sticks out about four and a half inches off the wall.

AUBREY: To demonstrate, Cameron Goldstein and his brother toss beanbags at different light up targets.

Mr. CAMERON GOLDSTEIN: The target moves around, and the point is to get where the target is.

AUBREY: The boys are clearly engaged and having fun. But the question is why do kids need all the lights an action? What's wrong with good old-fashioned play? I put the question to Brian Batease. He runs a company called Lightspace, which makes a virtual dodge ball game.

For starters, he says it's safer.

Mr. BRIAN BATEASE (Lightspace Corporation): I guess nobody gets hit in the face with a ball with this game, you know. They get hit in the foot with it by a piece of light, right? So anything that's going to get kids, you know, off the couch once a week, it's going to be huge.

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