Archive for the ‘Exergames’ Category

It’s official: summer vacation’s ended, taking with it the days of unscheduled freedom and marking a return to the sharp contrast between weekday and weekend—something that I, as a self-employed writer, don’t experience as keenly when my son’s not in school. As such, I thought it appropriate that I bring my long blogging hiatus to a close and get back to business (plus, people were beginning to wonder what happened to me, and I couldn’t give them a good answer).

Hand-in-hand with this, I decided to pick up my exercise routine where I’d left it languishing about two months ago, so I woke up early this morning, threw on some sweats, and got to it. My trainer seemed happy that I was back, and didn’t even lay the “nice-to-see-your-lazy-butt-again, didn’t-know-you-still-lived-around-here” guilt trip on me. He ran me through a full workout—cardio, strength training, upper and lower body, core. I did 35 exercises (including eight stretches) in just under 48 minutes, averaged a heart rate of 136 bpm, and burned 223.9 calories.

And I did it all by playing a videogame.

Okay, an exergame, really. Electronic Arts’ Sports Active 2, to be exact. And I can tell you, though it’s a game by classification, it’s serious exercise by any other measure. Designed by both game developers and certified professional trainers, it includes more than 70 different exercises and fitness activities that target all the major muscle groups—core, upper and lower body—and cover everything from flexibility and strength training to cardio and aerobic health. You can pick from several canned workouts (designed, again, by professional trainers), have EASA 2 create a custom workout based on the amount of time you have and what area you want to work, or build your own to meet your specific needs. And the system tracks everything: heart rate (there’s a monitor included in the package), calories burned, miles traveled, reps, number and duration of workouts, lifestyle and nutrition info (through surveys you can fill out). There’s even a virtual personal trainer (two, actually) to guide you through the exercises and help keep you motivated.

“Alright,” you say, with perhaps a degree of skepticism, “but does it really work?” In a word, yes. For those who prefer a longer answer, it ranges from “provides an excellent workout” to “kicks my ass six ways to Sunday.” And I love it. I’ve lowered my resting heart rate, gotten stronger and more physically fit, gained energy, and even rehabbed an injury to my arm—and, heaven forefend, I’ve had fun doing it. The variety keeps me engaged, and the results keep me coming back for more.

As a country, we all need to exercise more. According to the CDC, almost 36 percent of US adults and 17 percent of our children are obese. Obesity currently costs us around $140 billion a year, and it’s rising: by some estimates, additional healthcare spending on obese Americans could reach more than half a trillion dollars over the next 20 years. If you’re still standing, you might want to read that again. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even conceive of that amount. But I do know this: it’s absolutely critical that we reverse this trend. Our physical and economic survival depends on it—and getting us off the couch and moving is a good place to start.

And if videogames can do that, maybe they’ll save us after all.

For more on EA Sports Active 2, check out their website here (though be advised that it’s an older title, so you may be better off just Googling it).

To check out the CDC’s statistics on obesity, click here.

And here’s an LA Times article on obesity in the US.

This morning, I woke up, put on sweats and a T-shirt, and got my ass moving. I ran, practiced my soccer skills, got on the skateboard, did some dedicated strength training, cardio, and stretching, even set up with a sparring partner and worked on jabs, hooks and uppercuts—all in the space of about 30 minutes, and all in the comfort of home.

How is this possible, you ask? Do I have an athletic facility in the basement, complete with my own personal trainer? No… well, not exactly. What I’ve got is a Wii and Electronic Arts’ most advanced exergame, EA Sports Active 2, which transforms the humble gaming console into a state-of-the-art fitness machine—and it comes with not one but two personal trainers dedicated to the sole purpose of keeping me healthy.

The beauty of EASA 2 comes from two factors: the variety of available exercises and the flexibility to combine them into a virtually limitless array of workout routines. You can target upper body, lower body, strength, balance, coordination, aerobics, your legs, your core… it was actually a bit overwhelming, at first. So I had my personal trainer create a workout for me. EASA 2 asked me a few simple questions—how long did I want to exercise, at what intensity, and what did I want to focus on (I chose a general workout for strength and conditioning)—and a few clicks of the Wiimote later I was ready to roll.

And I loved it. EASA 2’s environment is visually engaging and transforms with each exercise (sometimes, as with running, even while you’re exercising). The exercises are fun to do, they got me working hard, and they change frequently enough to keep things interesting—thus avoiding the often mind-numbing repetition that causes people to abandon many traditional workout programs. Your trainer is always there, helping you through your workout and providing encouragement and motivation. And most importantly, you’re there as well—in the form of an avatar that you create as part of your personal profile. This is powerful: Not only do you see yourself performing the exercises, you get immediate visual feedback as to how well you’re doing. I identified with my avatar, and really wanted it to succeed—and often pushed myself a little harder—running faster than my trainer, timing jumps better or trying to jump higher—to ensure that it did.

But is it as good as real exercise? No. It is real exercise—as real as any of the glut of exercise videos on the market today (if not more so). EASA 2 goes far beyond what any video can offer, though. Consider this: an exercise video is static. It’s always the same length, looks the same each time you watch it, you perform the same exercises in the same order for the same duration… in a word, boring. EASA 2 provides a degree of variety and gives you a level of customization beyond even the best video’s wildest aspirations. You can create and revisit favorite routines as often as you like, or you can go through an entirely different routine every time you workout. The choice is yours—but as with any form of exercise, what you get out of it depends entirely on what you put in. I can tell you this: I gave each exercise everything I had, and by the end I’d done some serious work.

Now let’s see how I feel tomorrow…

To learn more about EASA 2, navigate over to EA’s website here.

The United States population is growing, and I don’t mean our numbers. There’s no delicate way to say this, but too many of us are fat—really fat. Obesity in this country is an epidemic: about a third of all adults and 17 percent of children—three times the rate of 20 years ago—are obese, and not a single state in the union has met the Healthy People 2010 goal to lower obesity rates below 15 percent. Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer… the list goes on. And the economic cost is staggering: obesity hammers us with a $200 billion medical bill, and it’s only getting worse. But most distressing of all, you know all those happy, carefree kids you see everyday? They’ll probably die before you do. That’s right, for the first time in US history, today’s generation of  kids probably won’t outlive their parents.

Okay, now that you’re paying attention, here’s the good news: The power to end obesity is in our hands. All we have to do is eat better and get more exercise—and there’s a great tool out there that can help. Anyone? Anyone?

You guessed it: videogames. Specifically, exergaming.

Active videogames have been around since 1982, but didn’t really take off until the introduction of Dance Dance Revolution in the early 2000s. The game’s surprising popularity tore the exergaming market wide open, and gave birth to the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 Kinect, and Playstation Move—all variations on a theme, and with the laudable goal of getting average Americans off their asses and moving.

And boy do we move. Kung Fu, boxing, cycling, tennis, bowling, dancing, track and field—the list of options is virtually endless, and more and better games come to market every year.

“Okay,” you ask, with perhaps a hint of cynicism, “but do they really work?”

According to researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of Massachusetts, they do. They found that kids who played exergames for 10 minutes got a workout as good as or significantly better than a 10-minute walk at three-miles-per hour on a treadmill. In the March 7 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Bruce Bailey, PhD (Brigham Young) and Kyle McInnis, ScD (U. Mass), wrote that

Exergaming has the potential to increase physical activity and have a favorable influence on energy balance, and may be a viable alternative to traditional fitness activities.”

And guess which is more fun. In fact, the researchers noted that entertainment appeal is exactly what makes the games so effective: Kids enjoy them, and are more likely to stick with the program—and reap the benefits—as a result. Now before you accuse me of hailing videogames as a panacea for US health issues, no one believes that exergaming can, or should, replace regular physical activity. As McInnis and Bailey noted,

Although exergaming is most likely not the solution to the epidemic of reduced physical activity in children, it appears to be a potentially innovative strategy that can be used to reduce sedentary time, increase adherence to exercise programs, and promote enjoyment of physical activity.”

George Velarde agrees. He’s the chair of the P.E. department at Sierra Vista Junior High in Canyon Country, CA. In 2003, he added an exergaming room to the school’s fitness center, and had this to say about it:

The kids don’t even know they’re working out, but they are working out even more at moderate to vigorous levels because of exergaming.”

Dr. Adam Noah—Technical Director of Long Island University’s ADAM Center and MoCap Lab, and an avid (and quite accomplished) gamer—plays DDR regularly, and he can tell you from experience that it’s much more like working out than gaming:

So when I play at this level [the highest level], I’m reaching 15 times my resting metabolism. That’s roughly equivalent to running on a treadmill at 10, 12 mph. People don’t do that. Yet I’m enjoying playing the game.”

And running on a treadmill is, in a word, boring.

Alright, so what’s the point of all this anyway? Just this: videogames, rather than being evil devices that turn people into couch potatoes, can actually play a key role in helping us get healthier. They may never replace real-world physical exercise, but when was the last time you broke a sweat watching TV? Think about it.

The LA Times has an article on exergaming studies here

…and WedMD has one on games and weight loss here.

For more on exergames and physical education, check out this link.

You can find a collection of news articles related to exergaming here.

There’s a discussion about exergaming research here.

Check out this article about gaming and fitness…

…and this one, too.

And for those interested, this link gives a brief history of exergaming.