By Adam Drake
I only wish my Jawbone UP counted all the steps my digital character in Call of Duty takes throughout the game. I’d hit my daily step goal in no problem, while simultaneously defending the country from terrorists. Sadly, and despite some heart-pounding missions mid-game, simulation video games don’t offer much in the way of helping you achieve your fitness goals.
Yet with titles like Wii Fit Plus and Xbox Fitness, video game consoles have come around to at-home exercise. Cardio movements, yoga sessions, and a bunch of brand-name fitness workouts are happening virtually in living rooms across the country. But the question remains, do they really work?
First, I blame Jane Fonda. She brought fitness and exercise into everyone’s home. Tuning your television set into the right channel early on a Saturday morning would bring an entire aerobics exercise class, right into your living room. It stayed this way for a long time until game developers created biometric feedback sensors that can register such things as heartbeat, steps, and balance during your workout. Suddenly, these sessions became less one-sided, more interactive, and a bit more fun.
Nintendo offers Wii Fit Plus for homes with a Wii or Wii U. The exercises, done while standing atop a balance board and holding the Wii Remote, can help you with aerobics, yoga, strength training, balance, and cardio. Because your body is giving feedback to the Wii, it’s able to keep track of your workouts and offer fitness programs based on your successes. Nintendo has never made claims that this will help you lose weight or get in shape, but insists Wii Fit Plus is a way to perform a healthy activity while being entertained.
Microsoft created the Xbox Fitness program based, no doubt, on Nintendo’s success with the Wii Fit Plus. Using the Kinect 2.0, the Xbox is able to track heart rate, calories, balance, and power. Onscreen, Xbox has hired several big names in the fitness world such as Shaun T, Jillian Michaels, and Tony Horton of the P90X workouts to offer their popular classes. Because you’re not holding or standing on anything, your freedom of movement is a bit better with Xbox Fitness verses Wii Fit Plus.
(At the moment, Sony’s Playstation does not offer a fitness program, and they have no intentions of releasing one in the foreseeable future.)
Do these work? Theoretically, yes. The Internet is filled with success stories of people who’ve committed to the workouts, become healthier, and who praise these technologies. Sadly, there are equally as many stories of people who bought the products and never took them out of the box.
Perhaps the more important question is — Can the Wii Fit Plus and Xbox Fitness replace your normal routine? Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to walk into your living room and sweat, than to head outside, grab a subway, and walk into your favorite studio. But what’s lacking with this tech is the personal feedback we receive from instructors and coaches. Both of these technologies are incredible at obtaining our vital statistics, but they can’t determine how well we’re performing each exercise, what our personal motivations are, and how our emotional fitness is increasing.
Ultimately, they’ll get your heart racing. And the technology has become exceedingly amazing at tracking vitals — but sans the personal feedback you’d get from an instructor or your fellow studio-goers.
Adam Drake is Creative Director for the Sweat Life, a former four-year varsity rower for the University of Miami, and currently rows for the Maritime Rowing Club. He is the co-founder of Kayak for a Cause, a charity event based in Connecticut. As a writer, Adam has developed television shows for Comedy Central, Bad Boy Worldwide, and Sky, written ad campaigns for clients such as Bacardi, Starbucks, Dove Men+Care, and HBO, and was a contributor to the pop culture site YesButNoButYes. In his spare time, he enjoys skiing, boating, and working on his tremendous collection of unfinished novels.