Tag Archives: fitness

ParticipAction 2.0 – Get Hal and Joanne on my Wii!

About a month ago a good friend lent me their WiiFit so that I could give it a try. I confess, I’ve become a fan.

wii-fit-01-540x540For those unfamiliar with the WiiFit it is a balance board you use with the Wii game consol to do strength building exerices, yoga, and balance games to develop flexibility, strengthen core muscles and burn calories. You can read more about the Wii Fit, its benefits and drawbacks here, and here.

The Wii Fit continues a trend of video games that find ways to get people to be active. Anyone whose tried Dance Dance Revolution, or even boxing and tennis on the Wii knows what I’m talking about. Still more amazing is how many households can now access this technology. 986,200 Wii’s have been sold in Canada as of July 1st, 2008. That is essentially one Wii for every 32 Canadians, one for every 12 households. Imagine if 1 in every 12 houses had a tread mill, or even a simple yoga video. Well, in a sense they do!

What is most interesting is that the Canadian government could help take this type of activity to the next level. Despite its success the WiiFit sufferes from a few shortcomings:

  1. there could be more exercises – ideally downloadable over the internet
  2. it would be nice if you could string together a customized series of exercises, that way you could create different workouts,
  3. the pace of the “trainers” is pretty slow, it be nice if you could eliminate their introductions and wrap ups to each exercise, by doing so you could increase the pace and a “workout” much more vigorous
  4. there could be cooler trainers guiding you during your work out
  5. it would be nice if more than one balance board could be connected to a given Wii – that way you could work out with friend(s)


In short, what we have is an increadible technology, one that touches millions of Canadians, and yet it is short on its potential. Thought of differently, every Wii Fit board, Nintendo Wii and television has the potential of becoming an instant gym.


Ideally, the community could create a game with several trainers or even “skins” – such a variety of themes could increase the appeal to different niches. I can already imagine someone grabbing and digitally editing a bunch of the old Hal and Joanne videos so that they appear to be doing exercises on the Wii balance board – one can imagine it being the must have retro cool game.What if the newly revived ParticipACTION partnered with Nintendo to create a new WiiFit game. ParticipACTION would agree to pay a discounted license fee to nintendo, and in exchange it would sponsor an open source community to create a ParticipACTION WiiFit game – one that could be cheaply distributed and customized to appeal to anyone, but especially the very kids who are most at risk of not exercising…

(the fact that, in researching this post, I discovered the participation archive project again reveals the mysteries and wonders of the internet. I mean, if there are transit geeks, why not participaction geeks?)

The Walking Strategy

As my friends are all too aware, I’ve adopted the “walking strategy” in my life. My rule is that, whenever in Vancouver, I must walk at least one direction to any meeting. Why?

Well here are 3 few reasons:

  • Having spent a decade away from Vancouver, I thought walking the city would help me get reacquainted with it (it has!)
  • After learning that you essentially burn as many calories walking a specific distance as running it, I thought this might enable me to maintain my love affair chocolate chip cookies and brownies
  • My job – which has me on the road a lot – has few demands of me when I’m in Vancouver, so I have the time

However, two other technologies really clinched it for me.

The first was the discovery of books on CD, or, more precisely, books on MP3. The number of lectures (such as those by Larry Lessig) and books (such as the beautifully narrated A Short History of Nearly Everything) that I’ve been able to devour through my shuffle has been astounding.

The second has been the mapping software made possible by Web 2.0 technologies. I use GMaps Pedometer to map out my routes (in part because I’m A-type) but more because, by knowing the distance I can gauge how long it will take me to walk to my destination. This ensures that I arrive (mostly) on time. Also, I can plan out the quietest routes (away from traffic) to ensure I can hear my lecture or book.

I’d also talk about the benefits of keeping one’s carbon emissions low, but with the amount of air travel I engage in, I cannot , at the moment, even begin to go down that road.

So, in short: It’s summer, and you have to try it.

All you nee is an ishuffle. Some books on MP3 and access to Gmaps.

The Fit City: Five Days, Five Ideas (part 2)

Had an interesting time at the Fit City/Fat City dialogue the other week. As a result of the event and suddenly realizing that it’s the 5 year anniversary of Building Up (the Canada25 report on cities) I thought I would dedicate this week’s posts to public policy ideas for creating healthy cities.

Idea #2: Listen while you walk: A health city is a walking city. A walking city is a quiet city.

I travel for work, so when I am in Vancouver I’ve resolved to walk at least one direction to all my meetings (in an effort to get reacquainted with the city and keep in shape). Like virtually everyone else under 35 years of age I see walking and taking the bus I take my iPod with me everywhere. I know some people listen to podcasts, others music and others lectures. My shuffle always have a book on tape loaded up (hey, if you’ve got an 8km walk ahead of you it’s a lot easier if your listening to something).

All this to say that walking in cities is a surprisingly noisy affair. Indeed, after pointing this out during the dialogue another participant came up to me and claimed that if the sidewalks of even a moderately busy street were a work zone, workplace regulations would require you wear earplugs. Now that’s fascinating. Whether you listen to an MP3 player or not it’s hard to imagine that walking is an appealing option when it is so loud it runs the risk of damaging your ears. What to do? We have demarked bike paths in the city, so why not walking paths? These paths, which could link high-traffic/high density neighbourhoods in the city, might be extra wide, better lit, traffic quietened, lined with cross-walks, and a balance between the shortest route and flattest route.

[tags]health, fitness, urban planning, health policy[/tags]

The Fit City: Five Days, Five Ideas (part 1)

Had an interesting time at the Fit City/Fat City dialogue the other week. Meant to blog on it sooner, but trips got in the way. However I’ve now had a week to reflect on the dialogue, and suddenly realizing that it’s the 5 year anniversary of Building Up (the Canada25 report on cities – can’t believe it’s been that long already) so I thought I would dedicate this week’s posts to public policy ideas for creating healthy cities.

Summary of the Fit City/Fat City Dialouge

Despite it’s title The Fit City/Fat City Dialogue was interesting, but didn’t feel much like a dialogue. It was more of a traditional public event with the panellists making presentations and the subsequent discussion essentially limited to a Q&A session.

Unfortunantely, rather than use the Q&A as an opportunity to develop ideas for advancing a fit city the panel fell into two traps. First, the panel kept dwelling on limited power of municipalities. True, cities don’t regulate food or manage healthcare, and their limited power of taxation constrain program delivery. But let us not underestimate the enormous influence they have on health issues. Indeed, given that municipal governments determine the physically environment in which citizens live, they probably control the single most important tool.

Secondly, the panel was dismissive of partial solutions. As Roland Guasparini, the Chief Medical Health Officer Fraser Health Authority stated: “What’s the point of designing a community that encourages walking when all it means is that people walk to the local store to buy a chocolate bar?” I couldn’t disagree more. Not only is this an opportunity for cities to lead, but the benefits of a walking community are significant no matter what its citizens eat. Yes, it would be nice if all three levels of government agreed to a single plan, but is it necessary? Moreover, the time consumed by such negotiations would be horrendous. In short, this problem can be addressed incrementally, knowing that we can’t solve the whole thing with a single policy doesn’t mean we shouldn’t act to solve some of it.

So, in the spirit of adding to the pool of ideas in support of a ‘healthy city’ here are my five policy suggestions in five days, one for each year of Building Up:

Idea #1: Physical Education: make it mandatory… and fun.

As this publication notes participation in physical education dropped from 70% to 60% in the province of Ontario. A trend that many Canadians believe is limited to the Unites States is indeed occurring here. Should we be surprised that an increasing number of young Canadians (not to mention Canadians generally) are becoming obese? Public Schools play a powerful role in instilling civic values and establishing behaviours. When we lower the expectations around physical education in our school we send a powerful message to all Canadians about the value we place on physical exercise.

Making PE mandatory feels like a good first step. But why not try some more creative ideas? Some American schools have been using the video game Dance Dance Revolution to encourage kids to get active (Norway even made it a national sport) and this blogger used his Wii game console to lose 2% of his body fat in 6 weeks. As Stephen Johnson notes in his book, video games can cultivate problem solving skills, if they can also help burn calories… why not?

[tags]health, fitness, urban planning, health policy[/tags]