Wii Fit, circa 1979

June 9, 2008

The Wii Fit is so hot that retailers can’t keep them in stock, or the shortages are deliberate or due to bad planning by Nintendo. Now do you think that exercising by your game console or computer is new? It existed nearly 30 years ago. A physical fitness application, distributed as a game cartridge named Physical Fitness became available when the TI-99/4 home computer was introduced in 1979 (but the copyright notice for the program states 1978. Interesting)

The Texas Instruments home computer, The TI 99/4 line of computers was sold until 1983. A TI 99/4A model came out in 1981 with a better keyboard and some other improvements.

TI-99/4 computer from 1978 (From the Obsolete Computers page)

I took these screen shots from a really good TI 99/4A simulator. You can download a pretty complete set of cartridges for it, including the Physical FItness cartridge.

The manual for the Physical FItness cartridge says:

Today as never before we are interested in finding exercise programs that promote our general fitness and good health. Only a generation or two ago most people received an adequate amount of exercise from their daily lives — walking to school or work and doing chores around the home or farm. Now, however, with our modern labor-saving devices — plus the fact that many of us have sedentary jobs — we often find that something extra in the way of exercise is needed. Physical fitness experts agree that the benefits of a regular exercise program, combined with other good health habits, can be enormous.

Exercise can tone up the muscles, improve blood circulation and heart efficiency, and increase strength and endurance. It gives you greater muscle control, helps keep your body supple, and generally enhances your feeling of well-being. In addition, exercising is an excellent way of relieving tension. When long hours of sitting at a desk or facing pressure situations give you a textbook case of “executive stress”, you can loosen up those tight muscles by exercising. These benefits are well worth the small amount of time invested in a regular exercise program.

The object of this module is to help you plan and maintain an exercise program designed for you — your lifestyle, your general health and condition, your exercise needs. The exercises, based on those found in The United States Book of Family Physical Fitness, prepared by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, are divided into five progressive levels, with separate categories for men and women. (These levels and the exercises themselves will be discussed more fully later.) The computer helps you keep rack of the order in which the exercises are performed and the number of times to do each one and sets the pace for the exercises.

Here’s computer based physical training, from 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president and disco was peaking out in the USA. There was also big trouble with Iran, we started to become involved in Afghanistan, and there was an energy crisis (what, things have come full circle??). Imagine inserting a cartridge into your home computer, turning on the power, pressing a few keys and getting ready for your workout:

The original RF (TV) display was 320 by 200 (32 x 25 characters) pixels. Then

Then you could review a list of exercises, or go on to the men’s or women’s workouts. The routines for men and women are pretty similar, only real difference is that men of course are expected to do more in their routines. Or so people thought in 1978.

And those people would be none other than the President’s Council on Physical Fitness (and now Sports). Founded in 1956 by President Eisenhower in reaction to the Cold War fear of Americans becoming soft, the commission is best known for the childhood fitness tests that all US primary school children go through, and often flunk.

First, check your pulse to see what your heart rate at rest is.

Pick a fitness level. The higher the number, the more rigorous the exercise. You progress from level to level when your adjusted heart rate is no longer reached by the exertion.

Let’s get started with calisthenics. Yep, this is going to be a little boring.

Now comes the cardio portion of the workout. You have an option of taking a run or doing some running in place exercises, as are displayed below:

Time to stop and check your pulse again.

Yes, this is quite dated (as much as leisure suits) and wouldn’t hold anyone’s attention today. But 30 years ago home computers caused as much excitement, and arguably more, than the game consoles of today.


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