SHOPPING: Can you get fit with a gadget?

Emma HarrowingIn the fourth part of our how to improve your life in 2010 EMMA HARROWING and EMMA LEE try out the latest fitness gadgets you can buy to help improve your fitness levels.Emma Harrowing

In the fourth part of our how to improve your life in 2010 EMMA HARROWING and EMMA LEE try out the latest fitness gadgets you can buy to help improve your fitness levels. But do they work?

Wii Fit Plus, �87.99, Argos Extra, the Mall, Norwich

The hype: Billed as the gadget that can get even the most dedicated couch potato active, Wii Fit Plus is the first computer game to be endorsed by the Department of Health.

The follow up to Wii Fit, it's your very own personal trainer. As well as helping you lose weight, the games are specially designed to improve your balance, co-ordination and core strength - in the comfort of your own home.

To start you need to get kitted out - you need a balance board, which plugs into a Nintendo Wii console, plus the game disc.

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Before you get fully up and running, the board measures your vital statistics to work out your body mass index and Wii Fit age, so that it can chart your progress.

And if you want to you can set yourself a goal, such as losing a couple of pounds in weight in a month.

There's a wide choice of activities in four categories aimed at different areas - balance games, aerobic exercises, muscle workouts and yoga. Then there's a 'training plus' area of exercises to promote mind and body co-ordination.

The reality: One of Wii Fit Plus' selling points is that it has family-wide appeal. So to make sure it got a proper workout, Joe and Esme Dickinson, aged nine and eight, gave it a try. Both youngsters love sport and computer games, so for them this was the perfect combination.

Esme particularly liked the hula hoop game, while Joe seemed to be a fan of all of them and was practically glued to the board.

For a more grown-up workout, I tried out yoga. I've had a go at one of Geri Halliwell's yoga videos a couple of times, but found it hard to follow and impossible to know whether I was doing it right.

The great thing about doing yoga on the Wii is that the board can sense whether you're holding the pose in the right place. And you can master them at your own pace.

For me personally, it seems a good alternative way to get some exercise on cold winter nights when I can't get out for my run as usual. And the youngsters loved the fun and imaginative games.

My only criticism would be is that as well as the Wii console, you also need the game and a balance board which retails at just under �90, which makes it a bit of a pricey alternative to lacing up my trainers and getting out in the fresh air.

I Joy Ride, �425, John Lewis

The hype: Get all of the benefits of horse riding in the comfort of your own home with the innovative I Joy Ride. The machine emulates the experience of riding a horse with an adjustable three way motion which is said will challenge and work your core muscle groups. The machine is said to tone your abs, inner thighs and bottom.

The reality: The thought of sitting down while exercising was appealing. The I Joy Ride comes with a DVD to guide you through various exercises you can do while the machine is in motion.

When I plugged in the machine and switched it on it felt like I was sitting on a horse as the lower half of my body continuously moved. The exercises on the DVD were easy to do, although some of them were more challenging than others especially when you set the machine to a higher speed and you needed to use your inner thighs to hang on.

As the most expensive gadget we put to the test my only reservation is that it's a hefty investment if, as is the case with some fitness gadgets, you are only going to use it for a few weeks. However, after a 15 minute workout I certainly felt as if I had exercised. My bottom, inner thighs and abdominal muscles were sore for a few days afterwards but it was easy to see how regular use could help tone up these problem areas.

Wobbleboard, �29.99, Heroes on Bridewell Alley

The hype: 'The wobble board gives you a complete gym workout' says Spencer Rodriguez from Heroes health and fitness on Bridewell Alley. 'Regular use of a wobble board will improve your balance, increase core strength and improve the range of movement.'

The reality: Hmmm… trying to get onto the board was a big challenge. The board reminded me of the Trimball popular in the early 90s where you stood on a round board, squeezed your feet around a ball and bounced up and down. The only problem with the Wobbleboard is that there is no ball to hold onto.

The 40cm board can be adjusted to angles between 19 and 23 degrees, the higher the angle the harder it is to balance on the board. Even when set at the lowest level it took me a whole week to balance on the board without falling off or wobbling too much. Then it took me a few more days to actually manage a squat on the board let alone any other exercise so it does take some perseverance. I didn't really notice whether or not I had got fitter just by using the wobble board, but the fact that I finally managed to stand up straight on the board meant that I had improved the strength in my back and stomach, which is good for posture and overall fitness.

Nike+ Sportband, �40 and Nike Vomero trainers, �90, Pilch

The hype: Improve your fitness levels with a virtual running club. The Nike+ Sportband is a device that can tell you how quickly you are running or walking, how long you have been running or walking for and how many calories you have consumed while exercising. The band can also be plugged into a computer so that you can monitor your progress online. Here you can also get tips and advice on how to improve your performance, burn more calories and get maps to plan out different routes.

The reality: The Sportband works best when used with a pair of Nike trainers which has a pocket embedded into the sole for the Sportsband chip to slot in (although you can buy a pocket that can be attached to any pair of trainers or lace up shoes). The chip is calibrated to a wristband with an easy to read display which tells you how far you have run, how long you have run for and importantly how many calories you have burned.

Before you start using the Sportband it's important to calibrate the band to the chip. This can be done by signing up to the Nike+ Sportband website.

I decided to use the device to see if I could improve my fitness performance just by walking to and from work. I wore the trainers to and from work for a week and uploaded the data into the Nike+ Sportband program online. Although the advice online is mainly targeted at runners I managed to tailor the tips to suit my level of fitness. After one week I managed to walk quicker and more effectively improving my fitness levels. I even managed to burn a few more calories just by improving the speed and the way I walked.

The fitness device is easy to use and can help you incorporate exercise into your daily routine, which is a major plus for someone who struggles to stick to an exercise regime.

MBT shoes, around �145, Pilch, Norwich

The hype: Trainers that tone you up as you walk? MBT shoes sound too good to be true. Launched in Switzerland in 1996 and in the UK a couple of years ago, these shoes have soles which are specially designed to strengthen your core muscles and protect your joints. They're said to help you burn up more calories as you walk, improve your posture, improve your balance and tone up your buttocks, abs and thighs by making the muscles work harder. You can't buy MBTs online as they have to be specially fitted. Their celebrity fans are said to include Ant and Dec, Sharon Osbourne and even Angelina Jolie.

The reality: It has to be said that these aren't the prettiest shoes ever. They have big chunky soles, which reminded me of the platform trainers the Spice Girls used to wear in the mid 90s. But no pain, no gain! When you first start out you're advised to only wear them for about 20 minutes at a time while you get used to them. And walking in them is a bit of an unusual sensation. Not only do you feel like a giant, but the curved sole makes you feel like you could tip over. But after 20 minutes of walking in them, even if it's just popping to the shops, you do feel like you've had a thorough workout. I've been wearing them for three weeks now and haven't got a washboard stomach or thighs of steel yet. But that's more likely something to do with the number of mince pies and sausage rolls I've been eating recently, so I'm going to stick with them.

Safety Warning: Before starting a new exercise program we recommend you consult your doctor or other professional medical adviser.


Change your life in 2010

If you were asked to draw up a list of things you want more of in life what would you write down?

Would you want to change your job? Have more money? Get fitter? Lose weight? Be happier? Improve your relationship?

Life Coaching is a practice that aims to help you achieve personal and professional goals and it could change your life.

Life Matters and the Norwich Evening News have teamed up The DLS Experience to offer you the chance to win ten one hour life coaching sessions with founder and life coach Doug Scroggins.

To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous prize tell us in 200 words or less why you need a life coach. Tell us what is your life like today? And what areas of your life would you like to change?

Please send your entry to Emma Harrowing, Life Matters Life Coaching Competition, Norwich Evening News, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE or email the closing date for entries is Friday January 22, 2010.

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