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Wii Fit: Balancing Acts

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries in people 65 and older in the United States. Exploring options to strengthen muscles and preserve our balance is a key step in preventing falls and their life-threatening consequences. Enter the Wii Fit.
While the original Wii showcased games such as golf, boxing, tennis, and bowling, Wii Fit offers four types of fitness training—aerobic, strength, yoga, and balance games. Most exercises are fun and increase your heart rate while strengthening “core” muscles of the body. In fact, one of the most attractive features of the Wii Fit is that it encourages individuals to try a broad range of exercises that they might not otherwise try.

But does it aid balance? Ongoing research into the benefits of the Wii Fit suggests that the game improves a number of fitness measures, including balance.
“My research focuses on balance and older adults and developing ways to decrease the number of falls in older adults,” Katie Bieryla, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Bucknell University, told the Post in the Nov/Dec 2010 article Balancing Act. “Last summer, I conducted a small study to train older adults on the Wii Fit with the intention of improving clinical measures of balance. After three weeks of training, we saw improvements in that area.”

Bieryla’s short study focused on participants—ranging in age from 75 to 92—from a local nursing home, who performed the Wii Fit training for 30 minutes, three times a week. They tried different yoga poses, as well as the soccer and ski jump games to add an element of fun to the training sessions.
While unable to pinpoint which activity improved their balance, Bieryla noted that “they definitely had fun with the game.”

Being engaged with an exercise activity is certainly an important reason for adults of all ages to consider gaming as an option.
“The Wii Fit is an easy way for older adults to have fun, get involved, and improve measures of balance,” says Bieryla. “This is just one inexpensive and fun way that we could improve some balance measures, which in turn may help improve or lower the incidence of falls.”

Our thanks to Kathleen Bieryla and to Bucknell University for providing the following video on the use of Wii Fit in strengthening core muscles and improving balance.

Wii Fit for a Healthy Back


By Bryce Taylor, MSPT

Three simple exercises using the Wii Fit will help keep your back healthy and core muscles strong. Perform the exercises to the best of your ability three to five days per week.

My favorite lower back exercise is coined Pelvic Clock. To perform, sit on a stability ball centered over the Wii balance board and move the ball in a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion with feet firmly planted. The Pelvic Clock improves lower back range of motion and core muscle control.

When performed correctly, The Reclined Skiing exercise is a fun Pilates-inspired activity to strengthen abdominal and hip muscles by sitting directly on the board in a reclined position. The objective is to maintain a neutral spine and navigate down the slalom course by leaning right and left at the appropriate times.

The third exercise, Plank Balance Bubble, is a challenging and entertaining game that targets core muscles. The exercise should only be performed if you do not have lower back pain and would like to strengthen core muscles for such sports as tennis, golf, or volleyball. There is a risk of falling off the ball, so please use caution when performing this exercise for the first time. Assume a Plank Position (face down with legs extended back) with elbows or hands on the ball while navigating a twisting river with shorelines that can literally “burst your bubble” along the way.

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  • kraeger ,beth

    I walk with a cane, and don’t like it. I was doing pt, and started the wii fit program. In 2 weeks,, I had turned 180 degrees. My balance is now about normal and do not use my cane unless I’m away from home. I will continue, I have not missed a day for 6 weeks. I just purchased the wii fit plus.

  • Bob Gartner

    I liked the above videos, and would like to try the exercises with my mother. However, I’m not sure from the videos which “games” are used. Do I need to buy additional games, or does the standard games that comes with the Wii and Wii Fit Plus include those games that are shown in the above videos?

    Thanks,
    Bob

  • Bryce Taylor

    Hello Edna,
    Thanks for your inquiry. When considering purchase of a Wii, it is important to distinguish between the console and the games. Wii Fit/Plus is an interactive fitness game that is sold with the Wii Balance Board for about $90. The console that comes with a high level motion controller and sports game is $200 and trending downward as competition has come on the market. You would need both to use the Wii Fit system. Hope that helps.

  • Edna Gosier

    I found this especially interesting because I recently took a nasty fall in the bathroom. I had caught my toe on a door casing.
    I would like to know if there are any specs to keep in mind when you are shopping for a WII.
    I am going to strive to maintain good balance. I am 71 yrs. old.