NO one is suggesting that flailing around the living room while playing a video game will turn a chunky channel surfer into an Ironman, but some dedicated Nintendo Wii users believe that playing the sports games bundled with the system is helping them slim down.
Here's how it works. Wielding a wireless remote like a piece of sporting equipment -- such as a tennis racket, baseball bat or golf club -- players control TV depictions of themselves participating in various sports. In the process, they work their biceps, shoulders, core and even the legs.
All of this, of course, happens in the comfort and privacy of the living room or rec room, which means users of any age or skill level can hit the virtual court, diamond or links anytime.
Since its Nov. 19 release, the Wii has become a mini-phenom -- 1.5 million of the consoles were snapped up by U.S. consumers between the product's launch and the end of January, according to market researcher NPD Group Inc. The lightning liftoff has made the Wii the fastest-selling console in the video game industry in the last 10 years.
Wii has attracted a devoted (some would say rabid) following, including 26-year-old Mickey DeLorenzo of South Philadelphia. The multimedia developer quickly attained cultural hero status by blogging the results of his 30-minute-a-day Wii exercise regimen.
DeLorenzo, who lost 9 pounds between Dec. 3 and Jan. 15 just by playing Wii games, says he's been so busy keeping up with media interviews he's neglected his Wii exercise regimen. (He's gained back a pound.)
"I've been fielding hundreds of e-mails from Wii users who want to know how I did it," he says. "I even have a literary agent now."
Traineo.com, a Web-based exercise community, has also hopped on board. The free site -- essentially an online support group of 50,000 fitness buffs and dieters -- recently launched a special area for Wii enthusiasts to meet online and trade Wii-related fitness tips.
In a few short weeks, membership in the Wii group has swelled to nearly 1,000 members.
"We're seeing a huge number of people interested in using the Wii as a fitness tool," says Traineo.com Chief Executive Alasdair McLean-Foreman. "They're discussing which games burn the most calories, experimenting with wrist weights and logging their workouts online," he says.
To the degree that the user is actually moving around, the system probably is conferring some benefits, scientists say.
In a study of 25 kids 8 to 12 years old, researcher Lorraine Lanningham-Foster at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, found that kids playing active video games (Sony's EyeToy and Konami's Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 2) expended roughly double the energy of kids playing sedentary video games.
She believes that the principles can be applied to Wii sport games.
"Let's face it. Kids play video games. That's a normal part of their day. If they can be active while playing, that's a healthier alternative."
Wii has some diverse enthusiasts, says David Young, a Nintendo consumer service supervisor whose velvety voice on the support line has earned him the in-house nickname, "Voice of Nintendo."
Young has received notes from a variety of users and parents of users who can't exercise in conventional ways, including a 44-year-old man with degenerative disc disease who is unable to bend or twist, but is able to play bowling and golf on the Wii; an 11-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who plays the games in her wheelchair; and a 16-year-old boy who used the device to help in the rehabilitation of his right arm, which was impaired by a series of strokes following an auto accident.
Not everyone is enamored of the devices, though.
Dr. Mark Klion, a sports physician and orthopedic surgeon at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, has encountered several patients with shoulder and elbow strain associated with Wii overuse.
"The problem," he says, "is you get someone who's a couch potato, and put them in front of a TV, swinging their arms countless hundreds of times, and that's enough to cause injury to the soft tissues, whether it's the muscles, tendons or ligaments."
For Wii newbies planning marathon sessions, Klion has some advice. "Start slow, 10 or 15 minutes at first, and work up from there."
But ultimately, Klion agrees with McLean-Foreman and others that even though playing a game in the living room is no substitute for working up a sweat outdoors and sucking in some fresh air, it's still better than nothing.
"Let's face it," McLean-Foreman says. "Jumping around the living room with a friend is better than sitting there eating a pizza."
Off the couch with Wii
WHACK! Your Louisville Slugger knocks the baseball up the middle with a satisfying crack. Whap, whap, whap! Your fists of fury pummel Evander Holyfield's steely jaw. Thwong! Anna Kournikova doesn't have a chance against the sweet spot on your racquet.
Ka-ching! Nintendo's new Wii video sports games, in which players wield the remote like a bat, racquet, golf club, boxing glove or bowling ball, have been taking living rooms by storm.
Although Nintendo didn't originally market the games for their fitness benefits, it seems that actual physical exertion, a.k.a. sweat, may be occurring, as dedicated gamers wind up, packing heat. Whether this qualifies as meaningful exercise is an open question, but some users swear by it. Page 12