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Wii™ keep families fit

by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi

Almost every Sunday, a grandparent and a grandchild or two gather in the game room at Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury (RW-C) in Irvington for a friendly game of bowling.

“This is a busy place on the weekends. [The residents] bring their grandchildren in here to play,” said Kori Poplin, fitness director at RW-C.

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Pat Beard takes a running start before releasing her Wii “bowling ball” in the game room at Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury in Irvington.

The year’s most sought-after gaming system, the Nintendo Wii, is bringing generations together for some off-the-couch fun. Unlike some of the other systems, which produce couch-potatoes with sore thumbs, the Wii system is all about getting up and moving, whether it’s to bowl, jog or hula-hoop.

“I personally like the free run,” said 9-year-old Chase Osborne. “Last time I did it I ran seven miles. I also like the hula hoop. It’s hard to learn but once I got 300 spins.”

Osborne enjoys a Wii workout on Fridays at the Northern Neck Family YMCA in Kilmarnock where the gaming system is one of the stations in the after-school program.

For the Wii illiterate, the Wii sports package was first released in North America in November 2006 and is a collection of five sports simulations: tennis, baseball, bowling, golf and boxing. Players use a hand-held Wii remote to mimic actions performed in the real games, such as swinging a tennis racket, punching an opponent or rolling a bowling ball.

Wii Fit, released in 2008, was the must-have gift this past Christmas. With over 14 million copies sold as of December 2008, it has generated over $1.26 billion in revenue for Nintendo.

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After-school program director Kai Evans helps Teandre Brown with a game of Wii ping-pong.

It was a gift this writer didn’t ask for but received and was a little reluctant to use. Who really wants a present that’s going to tell her she’s overweight, out-of-shape and off-balance, which is exactly what mine did? I’m 41 years old but my Wii Fit age is 491!

Determining the Wii Fit age is simple; the player stands on the game’s balance board to measure weight and the center of balance. The software then calculate’s the user’s body mass index when age and height are registered. After a few balance exercises, it gives the user an age and adjusts the “Mii.”

A Mii, of course, is a “mini you.” Each player can create his or her own Mii by selecting from various hair, eye and skin colors, facial features and clothes. Be warned, however, if the Wii Fit decides the user is overweight, the Mii adjusts accordingly.

The Wii Fit training has roughly 40 different activities including aerobic exercise, yoga, strength training and balance. It actually tracks minutes used and progress toward a fitness goal.

For years, video games have been blamed for childhood obesity. The Wii gaming system, however, gets youngsters, and really everyone in the family, off the sofa. Nintendo bills it as a way to get fit.

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Alan Christensen bowls on one of the nine two-person teams in Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury’s Wii bowling league.

Poplin says it’s no substitute for one of the 20-plus fitness classes she teaches monthly at RW-C, but it does offer some incentive to get up and move.

According to a 2008 report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, playing virtual sports such as tennis, bowling and boxing on a Nintendo Wii burned more than 50 percent more energy than playing sedentary video games.

Eight-year-old Michael Bea isn’t concerned about the energy burned but having the chance to jump around is exactly why he likes his Wii.

“My favorite game is Sonic Unleashed,” he said. He likes the Wii versus other gaming systems because “they have better games for it and I like it because it’s wireless and I can move around.”

And unlike some of the more traditional gaming systems, the Wii appeals to all ages.

It’s appeal at RW-C has resulted in a nine-team bowling league. The two-person teams play each other twice in a season. Chris Christensen is the unofficial league commissioner and statistician.

“He’s the one with the computer,” said Pat Beard, who bowled the league’s high game of 225.

The way she bowls, she must burn calories. Beard gets off to a running start and releases the ball (taking her finger off the controller) after about three steps.

“If you can control it and you have a little bit of hook, it does more damage,” said Alan Christensen, who has a Wii average of 180.

However, Mildred Christensen says real life bowling and Wii bowling are entirely different.

“This has absolutely nothing to do with regular bowling,” she said. “In fact, I think you’re better off if you haven’t bowled before.”

Bowling, hula hooping and Guitar Hero World Tour are the favorite games in this writer’s house.

The family comes together at least once or twice a week for an evening of off-key entertainment with my husband and daughter on guitar, my son on drums and me singing. I guess if Wii doesn’t make you fit, it confirms one old belief — the family that plays together stays together.

posted 02.26.2009

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