Fitness Friday: On Progress

I’ve been making Ring Fit Adventure a sporadic part of my day for a couple of weeks now. I don’t get to play every single day but I have achieved something relatively resembling consistency. During the weekends when I have more time, it’s easier for me to make the magic happen in the morning or early afternoon. On a typical work day, I’ll squeeze in my exercise late at night after my child goes to bed, while my partner is streaming or playing games with friends online. So on weekday evenings when I have plans (ironically, often the very Fridays where I post here about fitness!) I usually do not get a good opportunity to get my exercise in. My goal though is broad enough that even with missing some days here or there, I’m still making progress; when your baseline is “I never exercise,” any effort at all to improve is a success.

Progress is my topic this week as I reflect on how engaging with Ring Fit on a semi-regular basis has impacted my body and brain, as well as thinking in mechanical terms about how the game progresses and what that means for my exercises. This also feels like a good time to talk about what kind of progress I want to make outside of just “go from zero exercise to nonzero exercise.” As you settle into a hobby that isn’t necessarily fun to engage with consistently, I think it’s important to reflect on your goals and why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Let’s start with this question: after a couple of weeks of Ring Fit Adventure, do I feel like I’ve made any progress? I didn’t expect to feel any different this early on but as it turns out, just getting myself moving has had some subtle but noticeable effects on my body. It’s mainly noticeable during the time I’m actually exercising, but my stamina is already getting better even just after a couple of weeks. Initially, I could only do a couple of levels before I would be pouring sweat and my heart was pounding hard enough for the game to rate it as “energetic exercise.” Over time, I’ve been able to do more levels before reaching that point, and during my last couple of sessions I’ve been playing on a higher difficulty because I got to the point where all of my exercises were clocking as “moderate.” I plan to steadily increase the difficulty in this fashion, turning it up anytime I’ve been able to have multiple sessions in a row where the exercise feels like it isn’t pushing me as hard.

I mentioned in my first impressions that one of the earliest impacts I felt was mental. This has continued to be true. Incorporating exercise into my routine as much as possible has me thinking about other ways I need to be careful about my health. While I haven’t eliminated soda as a drink at this point, I’m drinking less of it than I was prior to starting with Ring Fit Adventure. The thought that pops into my head is that the soda essentially “cancels out” my exercise, which I generally want to try to avoid. I’m also being more careful about snacking, mainly doing so only when my body feels legitimately hungry as opposed to doing so when I’m craving the taste of a food. Learning to distinguish those two sensations is still a work in progress but paying more attention to how my body feels is already something I had worked on as part of my mental health self-improvement, so I feel confident that I can get there with time and practice.

In addition to making literal progress in terms of exercise, I’m also making progress in terms of moving the game forward. Ring Fit Adventure has a world-level structure where you complete a series of levels within a world to unlock the boss fight for that world, and upon completion of a world you unlock a subsequent world with more levels to play. After the first chapter, a core part of the game becomes recovering special abilities for Ring, your magical companion. These abilities give your character new powers and are significant markers of progress for the game. I’ve also unlocked one or two other new mechanics distinct from Ring’s powers that are worth mentioning at this point.

Ring’s first ability is the ability to do additional damage based on color. Each color corresponds to an exercise type: red for arms, blue for legs, yellow for core, and green for stretches/yoga. When you start a level, you can see the recommended exercise type based on the color balance of the enemies you will encounter. There’s generally enough variety to keep you motivated to switch around between colors, and that variety is further encouraged by learning new moves as you gain levels. Like most RPGs, higher level moves are more powerful than lower level moves and attacks that are AOEs hit more foes but do less damage than attacks that are single target. By adding this simple variety on top of the color system, during any given battle you’ll likely be working a different set of muscles, and as the game goes on you move out of simpler exercises into ones that work similar muscle groups but with a lot more challenge.

I hate planking, but it’s a decently strong Yellow AOE so it’s part of my current moveset. The fact that this damn game hacked my gamer brain to make me do planks still boggles me.

Ring’s second ability is a bit less involved but serves as an interesting side activity. Items in Ring Fit Adventure take the form of smoothies that you have to blend by squeezing the Ring-Con after filling it with the correct ingredients. Ingredients are collected from the levels, so if you’re missing a core ingredient that means jogging or squatting your way through a map and dealing with a couple of enemies while vacuuming up ingredients by pulling on the Ring-Con. As a reward for your exercise, the smoothies have beneficial effects like increasing damage or healing health you’ve lost during combat. Particularly in boss battles, the smoothies are essential to your survival, giving you more incentive to engage with this mechanic and to repeat levels if you are struggling.

Smoothie creation connects to another mechanic not directly related to Ring’s powers but still important to the game: tasks. Tasks are the Ring-Fit version of side quests, special activities that are optional to complete but give you additional money or special items as you do them. There’s a decent variety in the types of tasks available. Some require you to make particular types of smoothies and deliver them to town, others may ask you to repeat a level with new conditions, while others challenge you to complete a Game Gym under certain conditions. The rewards affiliated with the tasks vary in quality but they give you different ways to engage with the game and contribute to your overall completion of a world.

I don’t think I’ve talked much about Game Gyms yet so let’s discuss those a bit. Game Gyms provide minigames that focus on a specific type of exercise. The minigames are short – generally just a couple of minutes – and give you a numerical ranking based on your score. Here are some example minigames: using an ab press on the Ring-Con along with a twist to smash robots, aiming ring-presses at crates in order to blow them up as quickly as possible, squatting at different heights to launch upward off a spring to collect coins without hitting bombs, and plenty more. These workouts generally aren’t as exhausting as playing through a level but they still work your body a bit and the rewards for beating Game Gyms at a specific rank are generally worthwhile.

As I progress through the game and start to see some small changes in my health, it has me thinking on my long-term goals in terms of exercise. My core goal, as stated earlier, is to exercise more. I want it to be a normal part of my life. My consistency will never be perfect, but right now I’m exercising more days a week than I am not and that’s a big improvement compared to my lifestyle during the pandemic. Rather than tying my secondary goals to weight, I’m trying to time them to accomplishments instead. One big reason is my kid. Long-term I want to improve my life expectancy so I can be around for my child for as long as possible, but smaller steps along the way are primarily related to my ability to play with them. I want to be able to chase my child around outside without getting winded; they also like to get picked up and tossed around as a form of horseplay, and while for now I can still pick up my child it’s a challenging proposition. I want to be able to do so even as they continue to grow.

For my own health, a big one is quality of sleep. I don’t have an official diagnosis, but I am very confident that I have sleep apnea. My snoring is disruptive to the point that my partner regularly asks me to sleep on my stomach so it is muffled enough for them to sleep. I also wake up a lot at night, which leads generally to being pretty tired even if I’ve been in bed for a reasonable number of hours. Part of what wakes me up other than the snoring is getting muscle cramps at night, generally caused by dehydration and poor circulation. Since I drink a pretty reasonable amount of water I am confident that circulation is the primary driver of this issue. My hope is that improving my breathing and circulation through regular exercise will reduce these issues without an expensive medical intervention and I can improve my sleep quality over time. Better sleep has a lot of secondary health benefits connected to it, so just that one improvement from getting exercise would really do a lot for me.

I’m feeling good about my progress in Ring Fit Adventure so far. The gameplay elements unveiled as I progress the story give me more reason to exercise and more varied exercise, and while I still have a long way to go towards my big picture goals, the little benefits I am feeling right away are useful tools to motivate me to keep going. I’m hoping in the future to bring back a good report on some of the goals I’ve mentioned here; in the meantime, I’ve gotta focus on one day at a time to make sure I’m taking the small steps that will get me there someday.

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