Friday, November 20, 2009

Metabolic Syndrome, Wii Fit, and Mii

"Metabolic syndrome"
Mayo Clinic

"By Mayo Clinic staff

"Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, elevated insulin levels, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

"Having just one of these conditions isn't diagnosed as metabolic syndrome, but it does contribute to your risk of serious disease. If more than one of these conditions occur in combination, your risk is even greater...."

How about three out of four? My blood pressure is in the normal range, for the most part, thanks to medication: and my blood sugar levels are getting down, thanks to medication and not-quite-fully-implemented changes in my diet. "Excess body fat around the waist" fits me. I do not think that the "body mass index" should be taken seriously: at least, not for people who aren't extreme ectomorphs. On the other hand, I can see that I've got maybe thirty or forty-plus pounds to lose: quite a bit of that around my waist.

Cholesterol would be an issue - although that's being controlled by medication, too.

How do I feel about having my metabolism kept stable with pharmaceuticals? Well, I'd like to be perfect. But I'm not: and this sure beats having a heart attack or stroke.

While I'm on the tell-all topics, I was (finally) diagnosed with major depression a few years ago - and yet another set of medications has me thinking without a struggle for the first time since I was about twelve. That, I'm elated about. It's amazing, what a person can do when you're not expending so much effort just making the brain work.

And, I'm counting on something that Mayo Clinic section said: "aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems."

Which brings me to the other topic of this post. (I try to avoid more than one topic/post, but these are more closely related than most.)

The Great Wii Fit Conspiracy

I see that Wii Fit ia up to Wii Fit Plus now. What Nintendo says about says about the new software is: "Wii Fit Plus combines fun and fitness into one product. It can change how you exercise, how you balance, and even how you move. Expanding upon the original Wii Fit software, Wii Fit Plus is packed with every feature from Wii Fit—plus new exercises and tools to personalize your exercise routine. If you already have a profile on the original Wii Fit, you can easily transfer it over to Wii Fit Plus."

Sounds like the best thing since sliced bread, doesn't it?

It should: advertising copywriters are supposed to produce compelling copy.

Well, nothing's perfect, and Wii Fit is no exception.

There's the usual set of technical issues. Putting the balance board on a hard, flat surface helps.

"Diary: One Week Playing Wii Fit"
Game|Life, Wired (March 4, 2008)

"Thanks to Game|Life's crack Japanese secret elite beat agents who came to San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference last month, Game|Life finally has its own copy of Wii Fit, the exercise game that Nintendo will launch in the United States on May 19.

"Wii Fit is already tearing up the charts in Japan, where it has sold more than 1 million copies. I expect it to be just as big a hit here — if not more so, since we actually need to lose weight, unlike some other countries I could name...."

"...One day at GDC, I was talking to Nintendo's new executive VP Cammie Dunaway, and she pointed out that the language in the U.S. version of Wii Fit will be softened a bit from the blunt Japanese version: 'It just says, "You're fat!"'

"And that is precisely what the Japanese version of Wii Fit told me mere minutes into the experience. I put in my height (6 feet 1 inch) and stood on the Balance Board. Quicker than you can say "ranch dressing," it told me I was fat. This thing is a genius!..."

I think the Wired review is fairly reasonable, particularly since I agree with the conclusion: "Wii Fit isn't perfect, but the feedback you get from the Balance Board makes it easily the best 'exer-game' yet"

Not everybody sees it that way.

Like just about everything else in the universe, Wii Fit is a conspiracy: in the minds of some.

"The Wii Fit conspiracy"
The University of New Mexico (UNM) - Lobo Lair Message Board » General Discussion » Mens Health (February 16, 2009)

"Can You Game Yourself Thin?

"There's nothing worse than getting ripped off.

"To invest your hard earned money on a product that promises results that aren't delivered.

"That's how millions of new Wii Fit owners are feeling right now, and I don't blame them.

"The Wii Fit is marketed as the latest and greatest way to lose weight and be fit. The specialized Nintendo is supposed to do the job of your gym, your treadmill and even your personal trainer.

"That's a lot of pressure for a video game.

"With all the buzz surrounding the Wii Fit, I decided that some research was in order. What is this Wii Fit, and how is it qualified to get you into the best shape of your life?

"The Wii uses television and a wireless "balance board" that is about two feet wide and half as deep. The board is basically a fancy scale, which measures your weight and detects your equilibrium. To play Wii Fit, you stand on the board and do a series of games that fall into one of four categories: aerobics, balance, strength, and yoga.

"My research did turn up some cases of documented weight loss as a result of Wii Fit play time. In each case the person went from a sedentary lifestyle (basically a couch potato) and saw weight loss after doing the Wii Fit for 30-60 minutes per day.

"Walking for 30-60 minutes per day will give the same results.

"To really understand the purpose of this product I did a search on Shigeru Miyamoto, he's the creator of the Wii Fit.

"What he said may shock you.

" 'I don't think Wii Fit's purpose is to make you fit; what it's actually aiming to do is make you aware of your body,' he said. 'That's why we wanted people to talk with their families about Wii Fit, and become aware of these things together as a group.'..."


The bottom line of this post seems to be: "It's time to call the Wii Fit what it really is: a video game...entertainment, and that's it."

My hat's off to the author of that post: "Veggie Power" didn't claim that Wii Fit was a plot by the shape-shifting space-alien lizard people to control the proletariat's brains with subliminal messages; or that the Illuminati were really behind it; or Big Oil, or whatever.

And I'm pretty sure that a young, fit, college student who works out an hour or so each day, and goes hiking, kayaking, canoeing, skiing, or whitewater rafting when schedules permit, would benefit a great deal from a Wii Fit.

But: a "conspiracy?!"

Me? I'm pushing 60. I've had desk jobs most of my life. I suspect that a combination of genetic predisposition and a childhood spent partly in a cast, studying the ceiling, encouraged my tendency to sit in one place and use my brain. I don't have anything against physical activity: but I hadn't made it a part of what I routinely do.

Until recently.

Remember that "metabolic syndrome" thing? I had a "shazam!" moment a few years ago, when I realized that I couldn't count on the iron constitution I inherited to keep me going.

Nice, normal exercises like climbing and jogging are out: I had my original-equipment hip joints swapped out a few years ago. The replacements are fine: for the first time in my life, I'm walking without pain. But, they don't have the range of motion that standard-issue joints have, and they aren't (quite) as durable. So I can't run or jump. Or climb ladders. Actually, I can: but it's sincerely not a good idea.

I'd been exercising on a treadmill and one of those stationary bikes for some time, when one of my kids bought the system that supports Wii Fit. And, since she lives in this household, I get to use it, too.

The Wii Fit solved the biggest - and virtually the only - major obstacle I had to getting enough exercise: the mind-numbing boredom of going through the same motions, over, and over, and over again, while I fought to keep my brain from jumping out of my skull, screaming for something - anything - to keep it busy.

A television set helps - but the idiot box has its limitations when it comes to intellectual stimulation. Although I can 'think about things' while I exercise, I long ago got used to being able to read, make notes, and use a keyboard while thinking.

I've tried making notes or reading while exercising: it's possible, to a limited extent, on an exercise bike; on a treadmill? Forget it. (It's not a good idea for me to try reading in a car, either. I mean, really not a good idea.)

I won't claim that the Wii Fit is intellectually challenging: but it's a notch or two up from watching a news channel or soaps while exercising.

It's even possible for me to "run" with the Wii Fit. It's got this routine where you hold the remote (it says 'put it in your pocket' - but that isn't the best option for me) and run in place. I know: sounds silly. But the screen shows what your Mii (the Wii Fit avatar) would see in the Wii Fit's virtual world. As the remote senses me moving my arm, it 'runs' the avatar. And, I see the landscape flowing toward me.

It's not a convincing illusion - at all - but there are enough visual references for my visual cortex to tell me that movement is happening. And, while I'm 'running' around the virtual island, I can look at the trees, the other Miis, and miscellaneous scenery. And, surprisingly, that's just enough to keep my eyes from glazing over while I exercise.

"Running?" Yeah: I can't run without putting too much stress on those new joints. Running in place isn't quite the same thing, though. I've got much tighter control over how and where I put down my legs, and there just isn't the impact - literally - that comes with 'really' running. That, I can live with. Besides, I do a lot of the 'running' with waving my arms back and forth - it probably looks ridiculous, but what does the television screen care?

Other parts of Wii Fit are a bit more engaging for me. There's a ski jump (simulated, and probably nothing like the real thing) that requires timing and coordination that's fun to improve on; a sort of roll-the-marbles-through-the-maze game that's as fun as the child's toy that does the same thing.

Aside from undoing the effects of decades behind a desk, I'm learning why people enjoy active games and sports.

That, as I said, I can live with.

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