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The Wii, Kids & Fitness

By Darcy Nee

With the holidays just around the corner, you may already be listening to your child asking about possible gifts. Or, maybe you’re in search of a quality gift for the kids this holiday season: one that will encourage kids to move, improve their coordination and balance. According to a few of our Kinetic Konnection parents and children, several of the Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit video games, do just that.

What is the Wii? The Wii is an interactive game system that uses a remote style controller and sensor system to mimic various movements. There are several video games developed by Nintendo for the Wii console that integrate different sports, including bowling, tennis, golf and baseball. The Wii Fit, which is a separate video game developed by Nintendo for the Wii console, includes about 40 different activities, such as yoga poses, strength training, balance work and other exercises. The activities are performed on or with the Wii Balance Board. When beginning a daily program, the balance board measures a user’s weight and center of gravity. Based on the player’s weight, the software can calculate the user’s body mass index (BMI).

Daniel Lewis, 12, of Park Ridge, plays the Wii Fit an average of 45 to 60 minutes a day. Every time he logs into the system, the program takes his weight and determines his BMI for the day. Daniel says the games are “just fun.” Recently, he played his favorite game, the Hula Hoop, followed by the Stepping game and then did some push-ups as part of the strength training portion. He said his heart was pumping and he worked up a sweat.

Emily, 9, of Chicago, also enjoys playing the Hula-Hoop game on the Wii Fit module. In addition to playing on the Wii and Wii Fit program, Emily plays video games on the Nintendo DS. Her mother, Dalia, said she purchased the Wii because she wanted her children to be more active when playing with electronics. And, she has found that there are benefits for physical activity, balance and coordination. She said, “the games are fun, broken into manageable segments. There are a variety of games to choose from as well,” she added.

“I would advise parents to get it, if it is financially feasible, because it is another alternative for being active when indoors,” she said. “It also is something that the whole family can enjoy.”

Sharon, of Chicago, also believes the Wii provides games that are more active than traditional hand-held games.

Although Sharon did not purchase the additional Wii Fit program, she said her 9-year-old son Patrick plays often on the Nintendo Wii video games. Sharon said she noticed that the amount of activity depends on the games chosen. For instance, some Wii games encourage the gamer to stand, move an arm or leg to play, whereas other games require much less movement. Sharon wants her son to stand and move around when playing his video games, so prior to a purchase, she researched the games to determine if they required activity.

“I prefer the Wii games over any other hand-held video game program” Sharon said. “It certainly is better because it also allows the user to learn about competition and group cooperation (Patrick will often play with friends).”

Some good advice

Though the Wii had not debuted at the time of a report published by the Mayo Clinic in the January 2007 issue of Pediatrics, the report indicated active video games like the Wii can fight child obesity (the study tested Sony’s EyeToy and Microsoft’s Xbox). “In that study, researchers found that children burned three times as many calories playing ‘active’ video games versus playing traditional hand-held video games,” reported in a July/August 2008 issue of American Council on Exercise.

On its website, Nintendo does include parents’ tips regarding the Wii.

1. Check the Ratings: Find the games most appropriate for your kids by following the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating symbol and the content descriptions

2. Watch out for Online-Enabled games: Games that let users play with other people over the Internet sometimes allow chat or contain other user-generated content that isn’t part of the ESRB rating. Wii only allows open communication between users who have exchanged Friend Codes so communication is limited to users you want to interact with.

3. Don’t Stop at the Ratings: Game reviews and demos that allow you to sample games are broadly available online and in magazines.