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What's new in exercise trends

While the skipping rope is a simple exercise tool, the latest fitness trends and equipment are much more advanced. But do they work? Caitlin Reid finds out.

What is it? Nintendo Wii is an interactive video console which requires use of your whole body to play – challenge your partner to a tennis match or sprint against your kids in the lounge room. The Wii Fit is a Wii game with activities to boost fitness, strength and balance.

Cost: From $140 for the Wii Fit game, and $380 for the Wii console.

Fitness/health benefits: Compared to sedentary video games such as Xbox, the Wii increases energy expenditure and heart rate up to 400% and 84% respectively. But while the Wii is better than traditional video games for fitness, British research says it's no substitute for the real thing. However, playing on the Wii and Wii Fit may potentially improve co-ordination and balance, and prevent falls in people with cerebral palsy and Parkinson's disease. This improvement in balance is also being tested in the elderly.

Rating: The Wii is a fun way to bring together younger and older generations, and may improve balance. However, for the best fitness benefits, you're better off making use of that skipping rope.

Fitness: 1
Balance: 3

What is it? Nordic walking is walking with specially designed poles and using a specific technique which creates a total body workout. The amount of muscles used during walking is increased, as the Nordic walking motion brings the upper body into the exercise in much the same way as cross-country skiing.

Cost: $129-$210 for the poles, more for lessons.
Fitness/health benefits: Walking poles boost energy expenditure compared to regular walking. According to a US study, walking with poles, as opposed to without, increased VO2max (maximum effort) and heart rate by 23% and 16% respectively. Walking poles also reduce strain on your ankles, knees and hips, relieve neck and shoulder tension, and have been found to be a safe form of exercise for people with heart problems.

Rating: A great way to increase fitness and vary training for people of all ages and fitness levels. Beginners can use walking poles to increase mobility and balance, while fitness fanatics can incorporate them into a cross-training programme, by striding or jogging.

Fitness: 4
Balance: 4

What is it? Vibration platforms force your body to perform involuntary muscle contractions while you stand, sit or lie on the machine. These machines have been promoted for their effortless benefits – everything from muscle strengthening and flexibility to weight-loss and increased metabolism.

Cost: From $1500 for the machine, or about $10 for a studio session.

Fitness/health benefits: Despite the fat-burning and weight-loss claims made by manufacturers, research shows vibration machines are unlikely to give you the weight-loss edge. They will, however, improve balance and mobility in elderly people, and improve bone strength in post-menopausal women. Trained athletes, too, may see a small benefit in maximum strength and power, but according to research, they won't experience any enhancement in speed. Vibration machines are also useful for rehabilitation, such as after knee reconstruction, as well as for boosting flexibility in gymnasts.

Rating: For the average person, vibration machines need to be combined with cardiovascular exercise and resistance training. However, they can be beneficial for anyone needing to improve balance and strength, as well as for rehabilitation after an injury.

Fitness: 0
Balance: 4

What is it? Nike+ iPod is your own digital personal trainer. Simply place the sensor in your left Nike+ shoe, then attach the receiver to your iPod Nano (or use your iPod touch – it has built-in Nike+ support, so no receiver is needed). Start exercising with workout-based voice feedback and music to keep you motivated. As you run, ride or step (either outdoors or on a compatible machine), your iPod tells your time, distance, speed and kilojoules used.

Cost: About $450 (depends on shoes and type of iPod).

Fitness/health benefits: You get all the benefits of a regular running or gym programme: boost your fitness, aid weight-loss and weight management, increase muscle strength and endurance, improve bone strength, lower blood pressure, improve mood, enhance flexibility... the benefits are endless.

Rating: Nike+ iPod is very limited – you must be a keen runner or 'gym junkie' to benefit from the technology. Since you need to set your own training programme, you've got to be motivated to exercise to begin with. It's probably not the best choice for beginners, but it's great for amateur athletes and beyond.

Fitness: 5
Balance: 3

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