Exercise That's All Fun and Games

Mickey DeLorenzo's avatar, or
Mickey DeLorenzo's avatar, or "Mii," boxes in a sports game for Nintendo's Wii. (Courtesy Of Mickey Delorenzo - Courtesy Of Mickey Delorenzo)
By Mike Musgrove
Sunday, February 4, 2007

Tom Klimchak says he has been overweight for most of his life -- but figures he might slim down this year with a little help from Nintendo.

The latest Nintendo game system, the Wii, has gotten a lot of publicity for its innovative use of game controllers. Instead of sitting on a couch and mashing away at buttons, Wii players move their arms and wrists as if they were actually, say, swinging tennis rackets.

Play the boxing game that comes with the system for a few minutes, and you can feel your heart rate climbing. Play a little longer, and you might even break into a sweat.

Some owners of the console, like Klimchak, are taking this a step further and turning the Wii into their workout partner. Every morning before work, Klimchak fires up the Wii and punches and swings at the television for about 30 minutes. To increase the effort he expends on the games, he straps on wrist weights.

So far, it seems to be working. "I feel better and my arms are tighter," he said. Since beginning his regimen as a New Year's resolution, he has lost about 16 pounds, though he also credits changes in his diet. Klimchak, who started at 269 pounds, never owned a Nintendo before and picked up the Wii mainly in hope of getting some exercise.

Nintendo says it didn't really see this coming. Sure, it was hoping the system would appeal to baby boomers who might see it as a way to help stay physically and mentally alert, but this is a little different, said Perrin Kaplan, vice president of marketing.

"We saw it as a form of entertainment," she said. "We did not see it as a form of exercise."

Video games usually get knocked for their part in turning us into a nation of couch potatoes. But maybe there's a slight change afoot here. About a month ago, I met Nintendo fan Seth Dubois while researching an unrelated story. Dubois's girlfriend had given him a Wii for Christmas, and he quickly discovered the workout value. "I'm overweight," he told me. "So I try to play everyday."

Mickey DeLorenzo, a Nintendo fan in Philadelphia, turned his passion for the console into an experiment: For six weeks, he played the Wii's sports games every day but made no other alteration to his diet or exercise habits.

He lost nine pounds, down from 181.

At his personal Nintendo fan site, Wiinintendo.net, DeLorenzo posted graphs and funny video clips documenting his experiment. In one, he runs through the streets of Philadelphia with his Wii controllers in hand and jumps up and down on the top steps to the city's art museum as the "Rocky" theme plays. In another, he and a friend box, bowl, play tennis and swing the baseball bat in front of a TV.

He's even partnered with Traineo.com, a Web site that helps people track their weight-loss and fitness goals, to create the Wii Workout, which debuted on the site last week.

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