by Kim Painter
Are Wii fit yet? As a nation, we definitely are not in good shape. But 10 months after the launch of Nintendo's Wii Fit -- the first hit video game marketed as an exercise tool -- there are signs that, with the help of gaming systems, some of us might be making progress.
Wii Fit was the bestselling video game in the nation in January and February and had sold more than 6 million units, says market researcher NPD Group.
Marketers have noticed. More so-called exergames are in stores or on the way: The latest, Gold's Gym Cardio Workout (from Ubisoft, for Wii consoles), went on sale earlier this month.
Fitness experts have noticed, too. Though no one says exergames will solve the nation's obesity problem, many hope they will produce real benefits.
"Some exercise is better than none," and "none" is what many people get, says Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.
People who use exergames certainly move. In Wii Fit, users are invited to try yoga, strength exercises, aerobic activities and balance games while stepping and gyrating on a movement-sensitive board and following an on-screen trainer. The game tells users they are toning their bodies, improving posture and balance and burning calories.
But how much good does it do?
The exercise council is conducting a study to find out. So are researches at the University of Mississippi. They are lending the game to eight families for three months and recording the results, says Scott Owens, a professor of health and exercise science.
"I think that for people who have been inactive, there's a good chance they can see improvements," Owens says. And the game may inspire some to join real yoga classes or jog outside, Bryant adds.
Even hard-core athletes may find some use of such games, says Sue Stanley-Green, a professor of athletic training at Florida Southern College. She is trying Wii Fit as a rehabilitation tool for athletes who are recovering from surgery or injury.
The future will bring games that track heart rates and keep exercisers working at a challenging but safe pace, says Stephen Yang, assistant professor of physical education at the State University of New York-Cortland. Virtual group workouts, with participants connected online to a live coach, will happen, too, he says.
But the games that work best, Yang says, will be the ones that are the most fun.