Exergaming puts fun back in fitness

I’m standing in front of the large flat screen TV waiting for my virtual river rafting adventure to begin. I’m at Game On! Interactive Fitness to see what the hype is behind this phenomenon called exergames.
Coined from “exercise” and “games”, exergames is the latest trend in video games combining traditional gaming with some form of exercise. Having a bad reputation for encouraging sedentary lifestyle, the video game industry image could change with the popularity of exergames. These games, like the Nintendo Wii and the Sony Xbox 360 Kinect, require more movement and energy from the players than just thumb action.
On the Kinect, we learned to control our characters on screen, by moving our bodies—ducking, jumping over and dodging obstacles. We jumped on red dots on the Light Space Floor, hit and kicked lit up circles on the Sport Training Wall and pumped the pedals on an exercise bike to race our virtual cars. The entire time, we were laughing and having a blast, but also getting a good workout.
Owner Sheri Lincoln said the facility is currently the only one in B.C. specializing in exergames. A personal trainer and former rehab assistant, Lincoln said she’s inspired with the possibilities exergaming can do for young people’s health. After seeing a show where an obese young boy’s life was drastically changed with exergaming, it occurred to her that more people could benefit from a recreation centre promoting fun physical activity.
“I just saw how much fun it was, but it was also getting to the kids that aren’t in sports,” said Lincoln. “The non-athletic can come here and find something that they like and they’re moving, moving, moving. That’s what I liked.”
This is precisely why a team of experts are devoting five years of research to exergaming. Dr. Larry Katz is the director and co-founder of the Canadian Exergaming Research Centre at the University of Calgary. Katz’s team studies how exergames can impact youth fitness and help lessen obesity among young people.
Katz said depending on the game you choose, you can get a lot of exercise through exergaming.
“Yes, you can have exertion,” said Katz. “You can actually be so exerted that it can match what you do outside.”
Through exergaming, kids can also develop crucial skills that may encourage them to pursue a more active lifestyle.
Their most recent research looked at whether you can improve balance using exergames. The results are promising. “Our research shows that after six weeks (on the Wii Fit board), kids have an average of 27 per cent improvement in their balance. That’s huge,” said Katz.
Compared to physical education programs, exergames put less stress on children because there’s less pressure to perform. Kids who got straight A’s, except for a B in PE, came to mind. Having fun becomes the primary motivation and as kids improve coordination and balance, they develop confidence to try other physical activities outside of exergaming.
The good thing about exergames is that you can do them whether you’re three or 83. There are also games for personal training and rehabilitation.
“We’ve had an 83-year-old come in here,” Lincoln said. “(She had so much fun that) I had to tell her when her hour was up.”
Exergames don’t replace going out for a run or doing sports but they do complement each other. As Katz puts it, “I think it’s better and healthier for you to be outside cycling, but if it’s 40 below and you’re inside, why not exergame?”
For more information, visit www.gameoninteractivefitness.com

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