Wii Fit Making Exercise More Accessible?

A black box containing a Wii Fit Plus sits on top of a white box with grey and bright green letters containing a Wii Fit Balance Board.I read recently in an issue of Family Circle Magazine (DON’T JUDGE ME!) (There was a fried chicken recipe I wanted to try out!) that “Japanese research” (could they be any more vague and list any fewer resources?) indicates that using a Wii Fit burns just as many calories as doing moderate exercise. There was no resource listed, nothing. Just a blurb stating that there was some research going on in Japan telling us that the Wii Fit was good for us. I have read on random gaming and parenting boards that there is hubbub about the Wii Fit that it is exercise vs. still being “just a video game”…

Now, I don’t really care about calories as much (or at all) as I do having access to some kind of exercise or movement that I can do without having to leave my house and trek all the way up to the base, or pay for a pricey gym membership, or exhaust my silverware drawer trying to get there, or trying to get through a class of exercise that is of a safe level for my body. Sometimes I need to move. I’ve found our Wii Fit to be small chunks of movement that I can handle when I am ready for some, and unlike a yoga class, something I can stop quickly when I am out of resources. I could go on…but you get the idea. I still prefer a good swim when I have a good day, but we all know that our bodies do not always give us what we want…

Having a Wii Fit in my house has been something useful for me, and I acknowledge that there is quite a bit of privilege there as well. There are disabilities that don’t make the amount of movement required for the Wii Fit accessible at all. It isn’t affordable for everyone (and we had the console already when the balance board was released, but the board is not required for all the games), and the games aren’t released in all countries. Even on a good day I can not always use the board safely, and sometimes my old issues with eating disorders can’t handle some of the game details that include measuring your weight and abilities to balance…

But the Wii Fit has made exercise, and moderate amounts of movement, available to some people for whom it wouldn’t otherwise have been available and accessible.

What are your thoughts, gentle readers? Have any of you used the Wii Fit and been pleased with it, as I have? What are your major complaints with the idea that it is an accessible form of exercise/movement? Love it? Hate it?

Photo Credit: Keith Williamson

About Ouyang Dan

is an extremely proggy-liberal, formerly single mommy, Native American, invisibly disabled, U.S. Navy Veteran, social justice activist and aspiring freelance writer currently living in South Korea on Uncle Sam's dime. She has a super human tolerance for caffeine and chocolate and believes she should use those powers for good. She said should. She is not a concise person, and sometimes comes on a little aggressively in comments. Sometimes her right arm still twitches when military brass walks past her, but she would rather be reading YA Lit or pwning n00bs. She can be found being cliche about music, overthinking pop culture, and grumbling about whatever else suits her fancy at her personal website, random babble.... She also writes about military issues for Change.org's Women's Rights blog. If you have something interesting to say email her at ouyangdan [at] disabledfeminists [dot] com. Lawyers in Italy looking to hold lottery winnings in her bank account may wait longer for reply.

26 thoughts on “Wii Fit Making Exercise More Accessible?

  1. I’ve used it. Some of the games are fun — I like the skiing one, and the hula hoop one. The one where you’re supposed to head the soccer balls tends to make me too frustrated. I haven’t tried it while wearing shoes, though — the instructions say to be barefoot, but I can handle a lot more movement if I’m wearing my ankle brace, which needs to be worn with shoes. I’m not sure if the board would still register the balance right with shoes.

  2. I have both Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus, and I really enjoyed having it. The yoga, in particular, was very nice for getting started with some poses. After I got better at it, I prefer having my yoga DVD that “flows” better, but as a reasonably-fun way to get some exercise in around my schedule, I really liked Wii Fit. Especially because you can do it in tiny chunks whenever you’ve got the time, so 5 minutes there and 10 over there adds up over the course of the evening.

    I’m troubled by “accessible” in the context of the Wii Fit, because of course “accessible” implies to me specifically that it is meant to accommodate people with differing physical or mental needs. And, as you mentioned, the emphasis on weight/BMI is really really problematic. I suspect that they mean “accessible” to mean “friendly and welcoming to people who don’t normally work out,” and to a certain extent that’s true! (I have the same problems with the newly-minted Kinect/Project Natal: the hype is that it makes gaming easy for everyone, but that’s not true, and it annoys me that they phrase it that way.)

  3. That is a really good point, re: the word accessible, and I think that I even use it here for lack of a better word. Like, I know what I mean, but I can’t quite say it. I do feel like it brings a bit of physical fitness to people of varying needs, but I am not the final arbiter of these needs. Obviously.

  4. DH and I have a Wii, but not the Wii Fit (there’s a weight limit on the balance board, and I’m waaaaay over that limit). However, we have bowling, golf, tennis, and baseball that came with the Wii when we bought it, and we bought another bowling game, and another golf game for it. I’ve been practicing bowling left-handed (I’m normally right-handed) – that way, both arms get an equal work-out. I’ll bowl 2 or 4 games once a day while DH is at work, and on his days off, we both bowl for a couple of hours a day (it’s addictive). We do the other games if we feel like a change of pace. I have fibromyalgia and severe chronic lower back pain, along with arthritis in my knees, so spacing out the games works better than trying to do long sessions (I have learned to bowl sitting in my computer chair for those long bowling sessions DH likes).

  5. That was something I enjoyed, and wanted to know what other people’s opinions were, is that you can do a lot of the exercises sitting down (I have fibro too, and I love that I can play tennis or bowl while sitting).

    IIRC, the balance board has a ridiculous low weight limit. Which is sad/angry making. It is bad enough that going to the gym can being intimidating, I don’t need my home exercise equipment fat shaming me too…

  6. I’d like to try it but I just can’t do scales. So it actually makes me kind of sad that there’s this apparently really fun exercise thing that has been, for no reason other than fat shaming, deliberately unusable for people like me. It would have been so easy to have a “disable weight monitoring” function, dead easy, and the fact that it doesn’t honestly makes me kind of angry and bitter about the whole thing.

    But, then, the whole reason I’m angry and bitter is because it does seem so much fun and useful in other ways. So I don’t begrudge anyone who finds it helpful. The whole thing just makes me angry at the company.

  7. I doubt I could afford a Wii, but I had fun playing with a friend’s Wii Fit. I was playing as a guest, so I didn’t have the thing nagging me about my weight. I had to give up Aikido, because my feet and knees can’t take running around barefoot and sitting in seiza any more, so if I won the lottery (which won’t happen, because I don’t play the lottery) the Wii Fit might be a useful thing to get. I discovered that I’d actually be good at ten-pin bowling if the real thing didn’t involve throwing something I’d have trouble lifting with one hand. I don’t think I’d ever be any good at the ones that involve balance, though; I was rubbish at the Segway simulator.
    They should make the BMI thing optional (like you said, there are other reasons for exercising besides weight adjustment!!11!), and publicise which games can be done with a restricted range of movement.

  8. I would very much like a Wii Fit! However, it is not quite feasible for me financially at the moment, even used. :/ Also, I’m not sure if my recently double-sprained ankle would be okay with it.

  9. I’ve never used one, so I hadn’t realized the BMI thing wasn’t optional. That’s definitely icky on a variety of levels.

    If this is an inappropriate question, I apologize (and, of course, delete it). I use a wheelchair, have one arm, and don’t use a prosthetic; does anyone have any input on whether any/which games would be usable to me? I’ve asked this before and been told possibly tennis and bowling, and the comments here make think that may be true.

    By the way, I’m really grateful for both the content and tone of this post and the related discussion. Thank you.

  10. There’s another issue I have with the BMI thing: if your weight has increased, it’ll ask you what you think caused the weight gain. Normal day-to-day fluctuation is, of course, not one of those options– all of them are related to food intake and/or exercise– which is troublesome because one’s weight can fluctuate 5 pounds from day to day. So I always end up choosing “I don’t know”, even though I do know, simply because the actual answer’s not an option…

    On the other hand, I do think that Wii Fit has helped me with balance to some extent. Still not to the point of being able to ride a bike safely, but at least I’m not bumping into stuff as often.

  11. The Wii Fit is really fucking judgmental. It insists that you weigh in, resizes your icon according to your weight, has the little icon look reproachfully down at its waist, and then nags you if you don’t exercise. A friend reports (haven’t seen it myself) that it actually asks *other household members* where you are if you stop exercising.

    It isn’t disability-friendly to turn exercise into one more source of guilt. Period.

    I also find that many of the exercises tax my ability to stand for long periods.

  12. I would recommend the Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2010 for anyone who would be triggered by seeing/hearing their weight. The game *does* weigh you, but IIRC, you have to actually choose an option to see it.

    It’s not as fun as Wii Fit, though. I use it because sometimes with my migraines it’s really hard to get to the gym with the harsh lighting and very noisy children (YMCA). I need to exercise, and this is really a good way to get some light exercise in.

  13. sundiszo: I don’t have a Wii and have only played with other people’s. So unfortunately I can’t recommend any particular titles, but any game that doesn’t require the nunchuk can be played with one hand.

    [many minutes of searching later]

    Dang. It is not easy (as in: effectively impossible) to search games by controller. Neither Amazon nor GameStop have that as searchable qualities. Wikipedia notes the input devices for Wii games on some entries but this is not consistent and if there’s a way to search for those using remote only I have not found it. The Nintendo official site does not make games searchable by input devices and does not note which input devices a game uses.

    It’s accessibility fail all round.

    This thread at The Escapist is the best I could find, sorry. :(

  14. Sundiszo: of the games that come with the system, only boxing wouldn’t be an option. Baseball, tennis, bowling and golf all use just the wiimote. (I love bowling just because it’s rare a game can make spin something you have to avoid). I don’t have any of the other WiiSports-type games, so I can’t comment–but if you’re just looking for mindless fun, not exercise (or plot), Bust-A-Move Bash also uses just the wiimote. It’s not much of a game, but it’s a decent time-waster–unless you’re colour-blind :/ (And it’s a lousy party game, despite the marketing).

    Mario Party 8 would also be an option, I think. One or two mini-games may require the nunchuck, but the vast majority involve just moving the wiimote and hitting A or B.

  15. I have ankylosing spondylitis (arthritis in my hips and spine) and find some of the things on Wii Fit a little hard to do in terms of bending. I prefer EA Sports Active on the Wii. I’m using the sequel EA Sports Active More Exercises now, and I really like that it includes a gentle warm up and cool down with every workout. The “easy” workouts last about 20 minutes (with about 5 minutes of warm up and 5 minutes of cool down) which is a good length for me. It also doesn’t require the balance board (although you can use it for some exercises) so it is cheaper to get started with than Wii Fit if you already own a Wii.

    All the exercises do use both arms and legs, so while it’s great for someone like me with a systemic autoimmune disease, it would not be useful for people who use wheelchairs, who can’t stand for long periods of time, or who are missing limbs.

  16. Thank you so much for the research, insight, and taking the time to respond–I really appreciate it!

  17. Wow, I can’t believe that Wii Fit would be so shaming. I’m glad my mum doesn’t really have space for a Wii now, because she was considering getting one (because I really do NOT think she would have appreciated it nagging her and other family members about her weight or exercise frequency). On a more positive note I’m glad to see that the Wii is at least making exercise more accessible for some people, if not everyone.

  18. sundiszno: I see you had a couple of responses which makes me happy!, but I wanted to add that most of the titles we own don’t require the nunchuck (with the exceptions that Jayn mentioned above). Even the non-sports related games usually don’t require it. In fact, I really only know where two of ours are… That probably isn’t much help… But the racing games, etc, don’t require them. We even have a few (and I would have to drag the box out of storage) that have the option that changes based simply on how you hold the remote, that you can use it upright one-handed or sideways like the old-school Nintendo controllers. Before our last PCS we lived in a house with a couple other bachelor sailors who were also gamers…so we have a bit of a stockpile of games *hangs head in shame*…

    I HATE the way the Mii’s are very shaming about weight/did you exercise. I haven’t noticed that the game hounds others about where you are…you are able to password protect all of your stats to avoid anyone having access to your stats, so I have never personally seen that… You can also opt out of weighing in after the initial weigh in, which I still think you shouldn’t have to do, (and I believe this is an option on the other game I bought on clearance, Daisy Fuentes’ Pilates or something…). It simply doesn’t “track your progress” or whatever. But Nintendo could seriously improve in this area. Big time. This is not helpful, from a disability standpoint or otherwise.

  19. I have never used the Wii Fit. I was wary of it before and hearing the comments on here just reinforces my desire to stay well the hell away. Even just reading about how judgey it is is upsetting. I really wish they had an option to turn that stuff off and just play the games. I enjoy the workouts I get from tennis and bowling, and I used to love Dance Dance Revolution (though I haven’t played in years), so the idea of active games like this is very appealing, but ugh. I do not want to be shamed every time I use it.

  20. Ouyang Dan: Thank you very much! I really appreciate both the information and your graciousness about my asking such narrowly focused (me, me, ME!) questions.

  21. Travis – I think you can still play the physical games like tennis or bowling without having to get a the fit board. (And avoid finding out your “real” age, which is measured by how bad or good you are at the standard games (without acknowledging luck). I think it said I was 80 something.)

    We never bought any games with ours, just the sports pack – tennis, baseball, bowling, boxing… yeah, that’s it.

    It was a lot of fun, even when I sucked, because I tried so hard to hit the ball, I was having fun! And yes, everything had to be moved out of the way.

  22. I come at it from two places – with my own disability and from doing in home support for a woman who had some developmental disabilities.
    Since I grew up using video games it’s easy for me to use the Wii controllers, but for her – not so much. We’ve spent a fair amount of time practicing how to use the remote for various sports and other games (because she really likes the idea of it), but the way you have to use different buttons for different things, and sometimes use both at once is really frustrating for her. The on screen instructions (and constant popup of instructions if you don’t press the correct button) aren’t very useful either.
    For my stuff I’m more concerned about the fat shaming and so on. I’ve got enough of that already without a gaming system adding to the mix.

  23. The BMI/weight shaming on Wii Fit is horrible but I found a way to get around it was to increase my height. At 8ft, I have a BMI of 16 and it makes lots of appreciative comments (blech). My partner struggles to use the Wii Board though because he has problems with his knees which make standing upright for long periods and bending his knees painful.

  24. While others’ complaints are propably valid, (except for the complaint about weight being mandatory. Just don’t take the daily tests and it’ll never know.) the wii has been wonderful for me. My husband and I bought one with our wedding money and it’s my favorite video game. I’m naturally active and have overcome my excerise difficulties on my own, but I love wii fit, because it’s the only video game I’ve ever played that could actually do. As a female in my twenties, I have not suffered too much from my inability to use video games, but of my mom’s students, a gradeschool boy with autism, had the same discovery and I can only imagine how it will help him socially. I’m not a love of video games is recquired to be “normal,” but I acknowledge that a famaliraity and a comfort level with these games will give young boys more options to engage their peirs socially.
    Back to the fitness level, this game has tought me more about controling my ballance than years of therapy ever did and I could see a less judemental version being helpful in phyiscal and ocuptational therapy.
    On the judgemental comments, I find it amusing (but could easily be anoyed) that it assumes that it is my only source of exercise. Since I am currently in training for a marathon and have high energy levels due to anixety and hyperactivity, I use the wii fit to relax or to refresh my mind during study breaks. However, if I don’t use it for a few days, I have to listen to the game lecturing me about the importance of dedication. Additionaly, its method of determing your “actual age” relies on too few factors and fails to account for devlopemental delays. Thus, according to the machine, I, a 23-year-old marthoner who follows a very healthy diet, have the body of someone in their 40s (there might be agism here, but I won’t adress that) because I am a few pounds underweight and my devlopemental delays affect my ballance.

  25. We have a wii and a wii fit and I haven’t touched them in…. a lot of months. I’m not sure whether it’s more like six or more like eighteen – I’m very very bad with time. I think it’s more like eighteen. (But the last time I used it I weighed less and was under the delusion that I wanted to weigh a lot less, so I’m sure I’d get fun shaming for ignoring it and being heavier now. Eyeroll.) It basically got abandoned from apathy and boredom in our house. (And I’m not so great at all the standing it requires, either. I’ve started walking with a cane since I last touched it.)

    Anyway, aside from the I suck at standing, the worst part about it is the fit board ‘talking’ to you. Lecturing me for forgetting to use it for days makes me more likely to block it entirely from my mind, not less…. Some of the games are fun, but they’re games rather than any kind of exercise. (Looking at you, tightrope. And you, ski jump.)

    Ramble ramble ramble.

  26. I agree that I hate the weight thing — however, you do not actually have to look at your weight. It displays your BMI, but you have to click through to an optional screen to see the actual weight number. This is just as bad for some people, but for me — well, BMI means nothing to me. Even in my eating disordered days I didn’t find it a useful tool, so I can’t look at a BMI and have any particular idea of what that means in pounds (which is triggering to me to see). It’s also very easy for me to just click through to the next screen instead of viewing the BMI at all.

    This doesn’t excuse the fucked-up messaeg about weight loss=health, etc, that the Wii Fit promotes, but for me, the good it does is worth finding a work-around.

    I have pain issues (probably an auto-immune related disorder like fibro or CFS) as well as neurological “issues” thanks to a tumor. The Fit has been really helpful to me on both counts: for one, I can do easy exercise, such as the yoga (some of the poses are REALLY helpful; some I choose not to do at all) and the stepping (which is low-impact enough I can usually do it without destroying my knees/hips/ankles), in a comfortable environment, where I can stop any time I feel uncomfortable; for another, the other Wii games help my hand-eye coordination (which has been deteriorating). Plus there are lots of games that are just fun, even if they don’t do anything for me. 🙂

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