Freshmen gain many things in their first year of college: friends, knowledge and pizza boxes among other things. But no one said compiling an impressive pizza box collection comes without a price — one thing many students will also gain is weight.
As the back-to-school season rolls around, so too returns the threat of the infamous Freshman 15 weight gain.
Luckily, both the entertainment and fitness industries have taken advantage of new technologies like the Wii and Nike + Ipod to give college kids a fighting chance in the war against beer bellies.
Michael Kanellos, technology expert and editor at large at CNet.com, believes tech's turn toward fitness has been borne out of necessity. "People are really worried about obesity and people sitting in front of the TV playing video games. Why don't we make playing these games more fun while also getting exercise?"
Virtually Playing, Really Working
Combining video games, a notoriously sedentary activity, with exercise has reached new levels with the advent of the very active Nintendo Wii console, but it is not a new concept.
Arguably the first popular video game to combine exercise and entertainment was Nintendo's "Track & Field" game released in 1985 in which players could run in place on a pad on the floor to control their virtual counterpart. The game has proved so popular that real track and field teams still encourage its use during at-home, supplemental training.
Fast-forward more than a decade when Dance Dance Revolution began making its way around the world after its 1998 release in Japan.
"DDR is awesome," Wake Forest University senior and avid dancer Andrew Wall told ABCNEWS.com, describing the game in which the player has to step on the correct colored floor panel at the right time to complete the dance, "and it's a good workout too. You have to be fast."
When players began swinging their Wii controllers in every direction while playing virtual tennis, baseball and boxing among other sports games in 2006, many got a workout without noticing it.
"I work up a sweat when I play," said Wall who believes that while the Wii can burn a few calories, it's best if used as a supplement to a regular workout.
"Nobody's going to go running to get in shape to play Wii," he said.
Nintendo will be providing a more fitness-centered gaming experience in 2008 with the planned release of Wii Fit, a "series of games designed to increase fitness through balance and aerobics," according to IGN.com.
The system will use what Nintendo is tentatively calling the Wii Balance Board, a pressure-sensitive platform that will allow the Wii to virtually replicate full-body movements, meaning users can practice yoga, aerobics and other exercises while following virtual instructors.
Wii Fit is not the first system to take advantage of the total body experience, however.
Tech guru Kanellos has been using BodyPad, a French-designed system in which the users strap sensors on each hand, arm and leg and play dozens of Playstation 2 or XBox fighting games the way they were meant to be played: by breaking a sweat while actually throwing punches and kicks.
While some technology makes entertainment more active, other technology makes being active more entertaining so college kids won't get bored working off big meals.
Released in 2006, Nike +, a division of the Nike Co., partnered with Apple to release a device that would help athletes — or just the occasional runner — accurately and entertainingly gauge their exercise program by placing a minuscule multifunctional instrument, called the Nike + iPod Sports pack, inside the sole of the runner's shoe.
The device functions like a normal treadmill and records and measures your stats through a transmitter to an iPod Nano. Users of the Nike + iPod Sports pack can view stats such as distance traveled, pace, elapse of workout time and even calories burned while listening to their favorite music.
For those who prefer their workouts on two wheels, similar devices called cyclometers can be used with bicycles to give the rider accurate feedback about their exercise session.
These devices can range from simple five function cyclometers, which cost anywhere from $20 to $50, to overwhelmingly functional instruments that have everything from Ride Analysis Software to an up-to-the-minute report on effort levels. They cost more than $400.
Online Help for a Healthy Diet
Along with exercise, Dr. Gary Miller, a nutrition professor at Wake Forest, stresses that a healthy diet can help combat the Freshman 15.
"Students should make some smart choices in the cafeteria: Don't drink all the soft drinks you can. Also, control the midnight snacking. It's bad when it adds up," Miller said.
To help with those choices, many online programs can be downloaded to mobile devices that can instantly report the nutritional information of nearly any food on a restaurant's or cafeteria's menu before purchase.
Other downloadable software allows the user to input both the amount of calories consumed as well as the amount of exercise done to determine a healthy balance for maintaining weight.
But even with sophisticated dieting and entertaining activities, Miller stresses the importance of the basics of a healthy lifestyle.
"All this is a way for people in this generation to kind of use their toys and get immediate feedback," Miller told ABCNEWS.com, "but it's just kind of a little toy, not something that's necessary. It may be a good alternative a couple times a week as your workout. But otherwise you should go for a run and lift weights."
Because, as one of the greatest college movies of all time "Animal House" states: "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life."