On Friday, Oct. 30, prompted by one reporter’s outrage over a Nintendo Wii Fit estimating her age at 40, in the name of journalistic integrity and in no way out of a desire to play videogames on company time we set up one of the gaming consoles in the Manitoban office with the hopes of learning something about how Wii Fit ages are determined, how accurate they are and whether they actually say anything meaningful about your level of fitness.
Over the course of one day, 17 individuals had their Wii Fit age assessed. Each individual started by logging into the machine as a guest, which prompted them to select an avatar. After each person selected an avatar corresponding to their gender, they were asked to provide the day, month and year of their birth along with their height in imperial units (feet and inches.)
Participants were then asked to stand on interactive balance board and wait while the Wii assessed their posture and calculated their body mass index score (BMI). These figures were later displayed on the screen as both a number, and as a point on a graph, lumping participants into the categories: underweight, normal, overweight and obese.
After learning where they fell on the scale, participants were asked to balance on one foot while on the board for 30 seconds. While balancing, the display showed a graphical representation of how far to the left or right the participants were leaning with defined boundaries, which, if violated too often or for too long, would end the session. The session was also ended if the participant fell off of the balance board.
Following the balance test, the Wii Fit age of the participants was displayed with a note indicating that the computer used the individual’s real age, BMI score and balance to determine the Wii Fit age.
Of the 17 people who took part in the experiment, only five were women — less than one third of the participants. Of the women who participated, only one scored a Wii Fit age older than her actual age, with two scoring Wii Fit ages below their chronological age. All of the women who participated were assessed to have a BMI in the “normal range.”
Of the 12 men, five scored BMIs in the “normal” range, with the remaining seven scoring BMIs in the “overweight” and “obese” categories.
No male scored a Wii Fit age that was equal to or younger than their chronological age, with the closest assessment being within two years of their chronological age, while the largest difference was 33 years.
Closeness between Wii Fit age and chronological age appeared to be completely independent of BMI. The individual scoring the highest BMI index scored within two years of his chronological age, while individuals who scored BMIs in the “normal” range
were assessed to be anywhere from four to 21 years older than their chronological age.
Requests submitted to Nintendo for scientific explanations regarding how the Wii Fit determines a Wii Fit age were met with reluctance to go into detail. The only explanation from Nintendo outlined that a score is determined through an analysis of chronological age, BMI score and the balance test results.
While there were too few participants to perform a meaningful statistical analysis, a cursory analysis indicated that in the case of men there was no meaningful correlation between Wii Fit age and chronological age.
Coupled with the observation — which it should be noted is not backed up by statistical analysis since BMIs were not recorded — that BMI scores also had little to do with Wii Fit age scores, it has to be concluded that balance plays a very important role in helping the Wii Fit determine an age score.
This conclusion is backed up by the observation that individuals who asked to repeat their tests improved their Wii Fit age scores significantly with practice, in one case by almost 20 years, while BMI and chronological age remained the same.
So, how much stock should you put in your Wii Fit age? In the opinion of this writer, not a whole lot. What matters more is how you feel. Do you get winded walking up six steps? Will peace be achieved in the Middle East before you touch your toes? If the answer is “yes,” then there are easy things you can do to help yourself feel younger, as outlined by the Manitoban’s Sports Editor, Noreen May Ritsema, below.
In the meantime remember that the Wii Fit is a game, meant for entertainment more than serious physical self improvement, and that how you feel is far more important than what a machine thinks you should feel like.