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Tuesday 2 February 2010
Although exercise is a big no-no for many people with ME/CFS (see yesterday's article), at least some physical activity is recommend.
Wii Fits into CFS exercise plan
Wii Fit is an exercise game in which you stand on a specially designed balance board and perform activities from four categories: Yoga, Strength Training, Balance Games, and Aerobics. As you play, you unlock new games and exercises as well as more options for the current ones. The game also keeps track of your weight goals and allows you to keep an exercise journal, including activities aside from Wii Fit.
There is a wealth of information about all the various aspects of Wii Fit, not to mention opinions galore on its use as an exercise device or supplement. This review will focus on the details that I believe are of most interest to people with CFS and similar physical limitations.
The short version
While there is controversy about Wii Fit’s role in exercise routines, as someone with CFS I recommend it heartily. While it won’t remove the possibility of post-exertional malaise, the wide variety of activities makes it possible for a patient to enjoy a fun, diverting workout while precisely controlling its time and intensity, and design routines to help avoid the malaise. If a walk around the block isn’t going to work for you today, maybe you can still take five minutes to avoid a slew of soccer balls being kicked at your head. Prior knowledge of yoga and strength training, while not required, will improve your experience. As long as you can muster the ability to laugh at yourself and your poor little Mii when you crash and burn on that ski jump — because you recognize the exercise benefits you’re getting even when you fail — this game is an excellent addition to a CFS gamer’s library.
Anyone with moderate to severe CFS will be pleasantly surprised by the wide range of difficulty in Wii Fit’s activities, allowing even severely affected people to participate. For example, one of the first yoga exercises is simply to stand in place and breathe. This is an easy and relaxing activity and even if it’s all you can do, it still counts towards your progress in the game. Some activities are quite difficult, especially in the yoga and strength training sections, but the game helps you work towards any goal of improvement, as long as you don’t pay too much attention to the scoring (more about that later). You can do nothing but the easiest and lowest impact activities and continue to unlock more games and activities, so there is no pressure in the game to do anything that is too difficult for you.
In a real yoga class, you are encouraged to adjust your position and balance to improve your pose, whereas Wii Fit wants you to stay perfectly still for the best score, which for me eliminates the possibility of pranic breathing as I need more oxygen while I desperately try to hold the pose without moving. Yoga in this game should therefore be viewed mainly as a series of exercises to improve balance and flexibility.
The aerobics section is a mixed bag. Anyone looking for a good fat-burning workout is unlikely to find it here, especially given the downtime between exercises as you get your score and choose the next one. Two exercises, the step aerobics and the “running” (which can be done by very gently jogging in place) provide a light sustained experience, and eventually you will unlock “free step” and “free run,” which you can do for as long as you like. However, if you’re up to that much activity, a brisk walk outside is probably a better option. Other games such as the hula hoop provide a very short, focused burst of aerobic activity, which while very fun also has the most potential to push one into a crash.
The balance games should not be blown off as fun with no benefits. While you’re attempting to get a faster time on your ski run or catch more fish in your penguin suit, you’re really getting a whole-body workout. Don’t be surprised to find your legs and abs pleasantly and appropriately sore the next day after what seems like a trivial amount of activity!
The biggest concession Wii Fit makes to physical accessibility is allowing for the possibility of holding onto something if you feel unstable. I was surprised at the absence of common alternatives for some of the activities, such as holding the raised leg at the ankle or knee in Tree Pose, or doing push-ups on the knees instead of the toes. Here is an area where prior knowledge of yoga and strength training will help enormously as you make your own adjustments to your own abilities. If you are not comfortable with this, then I recommend sticking with the easiest yoga and strength training exercises, and focusing on the aerobics and balance games.
The game is very accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing, as many instructions are given visually, and all spoken information is also captioned. People with visual impairments will likely have trouble with many of the games and activities, but may be able to follow along with the spoken instruction on some yoga and strength training activities.
You work entirely at your own pace in Wii Fit. “Fit credits” are awarded for every minute spent performing exercises and playing games, and as the credits add up, more activities in all four categories are unlocked. These credits are cumulative, not per session, which is good news if you can only do 10 or even five minutes of exercise a day. It may take a little longer to unlock all the activities, but if you are only doing one or two per session, that probably isn’t a big concern.
All other points and scores in the game are entirely meaningless as far as advancing the game. In other words, you don’t have to be good at anything in order to keep unlocking activities; you only have to put the time in. However, within the activities that have advanced options, you do have to attain a certain level to unlock those options. (For example, I could do nothing but the same yoga exercise every day, and I will still eventually unlock the Tightrope Walk balance game. But in order to get to harder levels of Tightrope Walk, I do have to attain more proficiency at it, which of course is an incentive to keep playing.)
Eventually you will become familiar with how many minutes you spend on each game or activity, and then planning your 5-, 10-, or 15-minute workout becomes easy and enjoyable. I might warm up with some jogging, do one or two yoga or strength training exercises, and finish up with a couple of balance games. That’s about 15 minutes and I don’t even notice the time going by. If anything, at times I have to stop myself from trying just one more time to advance in a balance game, especially if I’ve already wiped myself out on other activities.
The scoring system is helpful on the one hand, and problematic on the other. As long as you realize you’re here to get stronger and not win at every game, you can ignore those one-star ratings and simply flip off the TV when your Mii bows its head in grief at your pitiful performance. (This doesn’t happen in the yoga or strength training sections; there you’ll simply get advice from your trainer on how to improve.) The score can be helpful to track your improvement in some activities, especially ones where the game’s criteria for scoring is actually relevant to the real world.
However, in many cases, especially with the yoga poses, the balance-based scoring may not be at all reflective of how well you are doing. Although you receive rudimentary instruction on how to do each activity, Wii Fit turns many of the yoga and strength exercises into a game of sorts, where your score is based solely on how well you balance. With too much emphasis on this aspect, there’s the possibility of sacrificing good body position in order to attain a better score. (Or you can cheat and simply stand still, but then why even buy the game?)
No one using Wii Fit should incur extra stress because she put her foot down during a challenging yoga pose and her score tanked; attempting the pose at all is the point, and the benefit. The same goes for any of the strength exercises where you may not be able to do all the reps; just do what you can, and yell obscenities at your trainer if he or she chides you afterwards. However, if you think you may be overly affected by the scoring in the game, or its assessment of your body type (using the inaccurate BMI), then you probably should avoid it so as not to add more stress to your exercise routine. Especially for people who are not very active, a sense of humor is required equipment if you plan to make Wii Fit part of your routine.
The article originally appeared here.
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