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Personal Trainer: Walking (DS)

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1 Review

Genre: Education & Reference / ESRB Rating: E - (Everyone) / Publisher: Nintendo

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      03.06.2011 10:00
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      A fun way to focus attention on increasing walking targets and relating this to mood.

      Back in February this year I was feeling really down in the dumps - a bit of the winter SAD syndrome maybe, but it wasn't nice and I knew I needed to pull myself together and stop moping about bursting into tears at the slightest thing. I knew that exercise was as good for mental well being as it is physically for the body. This is because exercise causes a decrease in stress hormones such as cortosol and increases endorphins, a hormone like substance , which are released during exercise and boost mood naturally. Evidence shows that people who exercise recover from mild depression more quickly than inactive people. So I set off for the gym to use a free seven day voucher that I had. I really enjoyed this and used the gym four times in the week and swam, but money just didn't allow me to take out membership so I had to have a rethink and decided to try and use the free form of exercise; walking.

      As a family we've always enjoyed short walks at the weekend and we sometimes take a dog out for a walk from a local rescue centre, but I wanted to make a determined effort to walk more during the week. I even went through a mad stage of considering getting a dog of our own to keep me company while venturing out over the fields (now this really would have been a complete turnaround as I've always been adamant that I didn't want the responsibilities or the mess involved in having a dog). But then my friend introduced me to review writing, another great way to improve my mood and especially my self esteem, and it was then that I read a review of the Nintendo DS game 'Walk with Me'. This struck me as having the potential to be a great motivator and to get me out there traversing the beautiful countryside around my home. It quickly made it onto my Amazon wish list and for my birthday I was lucky to receive 'Personal Trainer - Walking' for my DS.
      It is only now when I come to write this review that I've realised that it is not the exact same product that I'd read the reviews of, but having reread other reviews it appears to be almost identical, but alarmingly about twice the price, £63.55 on Amazon as opposed to £30 for 'Walk with Me'. I'm told that I received this one though because it was on offer back at the end of March, so watch out for offers again in the future.

      **The Game**

      So onto the game itself, if you can call it a game - it's more of a monitoring and recording device. The game comes packaged in a box containing two activity meters (pedometers) with an instruction booklet and a traditional Nintendo DS plastic game box including the infrared game disc that slots into the back of the DS.
      The idea is that you wear one of the activity meters throughout the day and this will record the number of steps that you take, or your dogs, yes the instructions really do suggest also using one for your dog!. Two meters are included, one black and one white, allowing two people to carry one and compare their daily activity. Further meters are available from Amazon for £13 each. I gave one to my daughter who managed to lose it straight away - she had it in her jeans pocket but lost it in a changing room while trying on new clothes - I wonder what the staff in New Look thought of this little white box with flashing light and button was when it was found - I hope a bomb scare alert didn't go off. So it looks like we'll be buying another one as it's fun to have someone to compete with, although not essential at all. The activity meters are much like any other pedometer but are particularly small and unobtrusive, measuring 4.5cm x 3.5cm. They come with two types of back to give you the option of a completely flat small back if you are going to keep it in a pocket or a back with a clip that can attach securely to a belt or waistband. Here lay my one and only problem with this package - I couldn't find my tiny Phillips type screwdriver from my glasses repair kit and became very frustrated as I wanted to change to the clip back. Eventually my brain problem solved that the sharp point of a chopping knife would do the job and the back was changed. The only other features of the activity meter are a small light that flashes red until you have reached your daily step target and then turns to green; a time when I become very excited and feel very righteous that my mission for the day has been achieved. There is also a button that is pressed while pointing it at the infrared sensor of the game card and which transfers the data from the activity meter to the DS ready for processing; it is at this point that the fuller details of your activity levels are revealed to you.

      Loading your data to the DS and working through the screens can take as little as a minute if you do the minimum. The first time of use however, you will be required to enter your name and design your mii, as you would with a wii game. This makes it all feel more personal while you're playing. At the end of each day on the main screen you press 'Check your rhythm' and then do the infrared connection bit. A graph runs across the screen taking you through the day so that you can identify periods of time which are white and indicate no steps taken, blue which is normal walking and red which is active walking and basically consists of any periods of time that constant walking occurred for 10 minutes or more. I do love it when those red blocks come up and the bigger the better - it really makes you feel good about yourself. The day that I had about four hours of almost continuous active walking and achieved 27,000 steps was a real high. Within each 5 minute time period recorded the height of the red or blue line also varies to show the intensity of the walking, so it breaks down even further with a high line meaning more steps taken.

      Once you have been taken through your day the game gives the key bit of information that I've been working up to; my grand total of steps and it is then that I receive my confirmation of how good or awful I've been that day. It then decides to relate your walking pattern to a type of animal. I always seem to end up being told that I'm a daytime horse with lots of daytime activity and a long distance being covered with only a few breaks. I could easily do without being told what type of animal I'm like and I do feel that their standards are low as I can be told I've walked a long distance when I've only covered 6000 steps and not reached my own target.

      The next step is to rate what sort of day you feel that you have had. Three options are available in smiley face format; a sad face, a happy face and a beaming smiley face. If I've been good and reached my step target then my face will be green. A red face on my chart shows a less successful day on the walking front. I've found this feature to be really beneficial for me. As simple as it sounds, to sit at the end of your day and reflect on the type of day you've had is quite therapeutic. It's also been reassuring for me to see that there haven't been too many sad faces and there's also been a reasonable number of brilliant days; the 27,000 step day correlating to the best of these, but many others also being days where we've had a good family walk. I'm sure February would have consisted of many red sad faces and I'm so pleased to be able to monitor this positive change.

      The last thing that happens before you are given the opportunity to quit is that you are set a mini target for the following day. These are designed to look at your overall well being and can include things such as monitoring your posture while walking, listen to someone else's story or try to avoid an unbalanced diet. These are a nice finishing touch and the next day you'll be asked how you did - I wish I could remember to do them more often!

      If I have more time to spare time I press the 'View records' option on the main screen and am presented with four options. 'Rhythm details' allows you to view bar graphs for any day that you've already been shown. You can do this in minute by minute detail however and add notes to make explanations for what you were doing and also lock off days that you want to be recorded forever, otherwise they will delete after 28 days. 'Calendar' shows you your smiley face charts on a monthly basis. Next comes 'rhythm graphs' which show a week's worth of graphs with the red, blue and white stripes and it's really easy in this way to pick out the more active days. There are options then to look on a month's figures or to make a comparison across days of the week e.g. to see all Monday results and look for patterns. I always like to look at the final 'step graphs' as it is here that you can see your overall average number of steps. It takes the form of a line graph and your personal average is shown as a horizontal line across the graph. For each day you can see if your steps for that day fall above or below this line. That's another motivating factor - I do like it when I can increase my average and am trying to get it to 10,000 steps, but days where I have been on a course at work for example and sat most of my day motionless have really dragged that down.

      It is possible to alter your daily step target by pressing the 'edit player' part of the main screen. I have set mine slightly lower than what my mental target would perhaps be as I will be far more motivated by success than failure. 'Play with records' is another option that I don't choose to use. Your footsteps can be used to draw pictures of places around the world or to illuminate a house with more lights the more steps you take. This is not for me, but some people may have fun with this.

      **My Opinion**

      I have loved having this game and have kept it in my pocket each day for the last month. It has motivated me to go for more short walks in a day and to walk places that I might otherwise have driven. It has kept my mind focussed on walking and other forms of physical exercise and has made me reflect more objectively on how each day has been for me. Sometimes I have found it a little frustrating when I have participated in another form of exercise and it shows a big white area or just blue lines on my graph. Examples of this are cycling where I guess by coasting down hills it doesn't actually equate to many steps. A strenuous period of tennis on the wii was also surprisingly ineffective as was some heavy gardening. It really does have to be proper footsteps. However, when I'm reflecting on my day I know that I've exercised in other ways and these also help me to feel better about the day. I thought I had an active job and that I was walking lots at home when doing housework, but sadly this is just not enough to reach a reasonable target - I need to go for a walk each day!

      I am quite content that only one variable is measured i.e number of footsteps, as this enables me to make daily comparisons and aim for targets. If you want to use a pedometer as part of a diet and exercise regime and are counting calories then this will not be for you as calories used are not monitored. Occasionally when I have been for a longer walk I would have liked to know how far I have walked.

      I would rate this as 4 stars as it is easy to use with clear simple instructions and I believe that it will help me to maintain a focus on keeping my activity levels at a healthier level both mentally and physically. The price however is excessive and I would not have been prepared to pay the full price and would chose the cheaper alternative

      **Update - October 2011**
      Six months on from first being given my pedometer seems a good time to update on its use.

      The good news is that it is still going strong - no sign of the batteries giving up and no sign of my batteries giving up either! The pedometer is still my constant companion each day, motivating me along to keep my activity levels up. Some comments from the original review suggested that the use of pedometers can be a five minute wonder, but there is something about this one that has prooved this not to be the case, and that is the charts that are shown in the view records section that enable you to monitor your progress and make comparisons on a daily or monthly basis. My motivation is high to keep my daily average figures as high as possible and each month I have watched my overall avaerage grow a little. The target now is to see if I can keep this going through winter, which has got to be hard as the evenings are no longer available for strolls out in the countryside, so I know I have to expect some dip. Some healtheir walking patterns are now ingrained in me though, such as parking further away from work and walking in and walking to more of our local activities, so there's no way that I won't maintain some of my walking levels.

      A fellow reviewer who also brought the personal trainer advised me that this pedometer doesn't measure the first ten steps of any fresh period of walking which I'd not picked up on before I wrote the first review. One thing that I am finding annoying is the play advice that sometimes flashes up when I first turn this on - I think I know after 6 months that my light will change from red to green when I acheive my target and also I really really wish it didn't tell me what type of animal I was each day.

      All in all though having the personal trainer has had an extremely positive effect on my life and the money that was spent on it seems so worthwhile.

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