Exergame Fitness advisory board member Ernie Medina on “Plugging” into physical activity through the means of Exergames…

These days, it seems that every where you turn, someone is talking or writing about pediatric obesity. While there are many factors for this epidemic, physical inactivity is one that is often stated, and technology is often blamed for this. Well unless an alien race comes and blasts us with EMF (electromagnetic field) weapons, knocking out everything electronic and digital, technology is here to stay. Fortunately, there is a growing class of technology that is helping to combat childhood obesity, and a host of other healthcare challenges related to physical inactivity, or what I like to call “hypokinetic disease”.

This is called “exergaming”, and is a sub-division of the growing genre within the “games for health” field. While Dance Dance Revolution is probably the granddaddy of exergaming, the Nintento Wii is what has brought exergaming to the national forefront.

For those who don’t know what DDR or the Wii is, exergaming is a interactive digital video games where in order to play the video game, you have to physically move your body (besides just your thumbs).

Some game consoles use a hand-held remote that you wave around (eg. the Wii) while some utilize a camera that captures your body’s movement (eg. Sony’s Eye Toy). Microsoft Xbox is coming out with Kinect that is the next generation of video cameras that capture movement in 3D while Sony is coming out with their version of remotes that have glowing colored orbs at the end.

As the technology progresses, I think that we will go the way of the video camera or sensor where you won’t have to hold anything—soon we will be Star Trek’s holodeck, playing in a virtual world. What is amazing about exergaming when it comes to healthcare is that now we have a tool that we can use to reach those patients who are the hardest to motivate because exergaming seems to overcome most of the obstacles and excuses that people have about exercise.

Exercise boring? What is more fun than playing a video game! No time? You can play these games right in your own home—no gym membership required. What to exercise with others? You can now play these games with your friends and get a group workout. Have a physical limitation? Many of these exergames can be played while sitting in a chair and you can still get a workout. Exergames are being studied and used for rehabilitation, like with post-stroke or at-risk-for-fall patients.

While there are a number of in-home exergame products now available, organizations are starting to see the benefit of reaching patients and clients with this new intervention. Medical

Gamercize in a school settingGamercize in a school setting

fitness centers are starting to add exergaming equipment in their facility. Recreation centers and community centers such as YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs are converting underutilized space like old racquetball courts and turning them into exergaming zones. Examples of such facilities are the Xrtainment Zone in Loma Linda University’s Drayson Center and the Chicago Bull’s Energizebulls Exergame Fitness Center for public schools.

Schools and after school programs are starting to utilize exergames into their programming. Some schools are even using exergames during the school day, as part of their learning process, because studies show that exercise can help improve learning and academic scores while at the same time decreasing behavioral and attendance problems.

A key component to making this all work is to have the right instructor or training leading out in organized, structured programming. Just having a room full of exergames may be ok in the beginning, but what many are finding out is that programming is the key to long-term compliance and utilization of exergame equipment.

That is why companies such as Exergame Fitness the largest dealer of exergaming equipment in the world, has partnered with MedPlay Technologies to provide both the equipment and the programming so that facilities can get the most value and return on investment.

Exergaming isn’t just for kids, either. Seniors have been getting into Wii bowling tournaments at senior centers. There is interest in looking at the cognitive effects on seniors who exergame. Special populations, such as special needs kids are also benefiting from exergaming.

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With pediatric obesity on the rise, even health insurance companies are starting to pay attention to exergaming. Inland Empire Health Plan, a medicare-based state health insurance, pays for overweight kids to attend a 7-week program called Family Fit Zone, held at the Xrtainment Center. Aetna is also close to providing coverage for various games for health. Humana has a division that helps to support exergame and games for health projects with it’s members.

Whether you’re a healthcare professional, trainer, health educator, fitness facility, school, senior activity director, or special needs teacher, exergaming can be a most useful tool. If you are not a video gamer and this is all new to you, check out Exergame Fitness or MedPlay Tech’s websites for more information.

A multi-university research project called Exergames Unlocked is designed for the first-timer in mind. The Exergame Network (TEN) is a non-profit website that also provides all kinds of information for those new to this area. And if you’re looking for exergame-related research, the best place to check is the database in Health Games Research, click on “database”).