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Fat tech



A recent study by Statistics Canada confirmed what many of us already know, that as a nation we're becoming more corpulent, more paunchy, more rotund - in short, a nation of fat bastards.

Since the first Canadian Health Measures Survey in 1981 the general health of Canadians has declined despite the fact that fewer people are smoking and overall we're drinking a little less than we used to. As well, we know a lot more about health and nutrition than we did three decades ago and include more information on food labels than ever before.

And yet we continue to pack on the pounds as fitness levels decline. Among youth aged 15 to 19, the number of teens with waist measurements that put them at health risk has more than tripled. The number of adults aged 20 to 39 with bulging bellies has also increased from five per cent of men in 1981 to 21 per cent today, while women have seen a greater increase from six per cent to 31 per cent.

While the figures are open to some interpretation and Body Mass Index measurements don't always account for things like muscle, this study was confined to waist measurements and are more or less accurate. Facing facts, we are a flabbier country today than we were three decades ago and while we could always compare ourselves favourably to the U.S. it appears that we've more or less caught up with our neighbours.

A lot of different things are blamed for this increase in waist measurements, from the loss of phys-ed and sports programs at schools to diets that are emphasizing speed and ease rather than health and nutrition.

Technology also deserves a share of the blame. Maybe even the biggest share.

Computers have revolutionized the modern workplace, but as a result most people move around far less than they used to in the course of a workday. Why get up and walk across the floor to talk to a co-worker when you can send an e-mail?

People also used to leave their offices for lunch, but more people are sitting at their desks and surfing the web while eating than walking down the street to a deli.

At home, people are either watching television (an average of five hours a day per person), working on computers or playing video games during their free time - all sedentary technologies that encourage snacking and discourage physical activity.

Truth be told, if they had Xbox 360s in my day there's no way my parents would have been able to drag me out on family bike rides, or that I would have headed out to the schoolyard after dinner to play basketball or road hockey until it was too dark to see.

But although technology is one of the culprits behind our severely stressed belts it could be the answer for many of us as well.

For example, owners of iPods and iPhones can download apps that count calories or serve as your own personal trainer. Nike has an app and in-shoe gadget that works like a pedometer to track your movements and calories burned during a day, which you can also combine with the GPS feature of an iPhone to map and measure your routes. In fact, the health care and fitness category of the iTunes App Store has literally hundreds of health apps available ranging from yoga stretches to sleep cycle alarm clocks. The iFitness app is particularly popular, allowing you to set goals, follow a program and track results.

Then there's the Wii. Studies show that Wii Sports, and especially the boxing game, are actually pretty good at getting people on their feet and burning calories. One tester burned 125 calories during 15 minutes of Wii boxing, which is about half as much as you burn jogging at around 10 km/h. I would imagine that Punch Out with the additional one-to-one motion controller is even better for you.

The Wii Fit program, which includes the balance board, is also drawing a lot of positive reviews for building strength and flexibility (which in turn speed up our metabolisms) as well as improving aerobic fitness. More than 25 million copies of Wii Fit have been sold around the world so far. And while it won't prepare you for an Ironman it certainly can relieve some of the pressure on your belt buckle.

Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 are well behind Nintendo when it comes to fitness gaming, but are slowly catching up. Sometime this year Microsoft will release Project Natal for Xbox 360 users, which is a sophisticated motion control technology that replaces your joystick with body movements. The PS3 motion controller wand is also expected soon.

All three consoles also have the best fitness gaming peripheral that money can buy - those touch sensitive pads you can use to play Dance Dance Revolution at home. Two minutes on one of those is usually enough to get the sweat dripping.

Last but not least, learning to play the drums on Rock Band and Guitar Hero is a pretty good workout as well. How many fat drummers do you know?



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