Putting the fun back into fitness 1

by Anastasia Prikhodko

Exergamers in action. Photography by Brett Young

Exergamers in action. Photography by Brett Young

The face of computer and video gamers is changing; some are now becoming stronger, fitter, and healthier.

Gaming is the act of playing a computer game; exercise is an act of bodily movement. Put those two together and you have got exergaming, a new form of exercise set to revolutionise both.

 “Exergaming has a beneficial physical outcome as it challenges you,” says Brett Young, Director of Exergaming Australia. “It is the fusion of highly engaging mechanics mixed with an activity.”

Nintendo Wii was the first of its kind. It was released in 2006, and has been labelled a domestic exergame. Following its release, was Sony’s Move, and Microsoft’s Kinetic.

Outside domestic exergaming is commercial exergaming, which continues to be an underground form of fitness in Australia. Commercial exergaming uses exercise equipment such as Machine Dance, a computer-controlled motion game where the players move their feet according to the directions indicated by the arrows on a screen, and Trixter, an inter-active exergaming bike.

Brett Young says,  “In Australia about 12 per cent of our population go to a gym, but what about the other 88 per cent that don’t go?”

Evidently, with obesity a rising epidemic in Australia, traditional fitness is not working for all, and something new needs to be introduced to get people moving. Research published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) in 2010, reported that the total cost of managing obesity in Australia is $21 billion a year.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, one in three adults are overweight or obese, which is more than 12 million people, and one in four children are overweight. And these figures are rising.

Professor Ralph Maddison, a researcher in physical activity at Auckland University, New Zealand, says,  “Video gaming or exergaming should not replace traditional physical activity as it is not a way of reducing weight gain but in combination with traditional physical exercise, it is beneficial.

“Children will continue to play video games, and if those video games can be replaced with actives games then it will help children be more physical,” he says.

Professor Maddison says he has experienced some negativity from the public. “A lot of people think we are promoting video games and respond negatively, but we are not. We are promoting physical games.”

Brett Young’s exergaming gym has a machine dance system, with 12 floor pads. The music is fast and loud, the lights are dimmed. This type of exercise reinforces that exergaming is all about-having fun.

After the dance session, people are able to take a different exercise approach combining exergaming and contemporary fitness.

“We use gym sticks as resistance-based training, and we use power block, which is similar to a dumb bell. So usually people do one song, then they come off for one minute 40 seconds and we do pure resistance training, then they go back and do the next song.

“You are getting pure cardio training mixed with resistance training,” Brett says.  “People absolutely love it, because it makes time fly.”

The exergaming gym welcomes adults and families, with gamers as young as three.

David Norman, Director of EYE Fitness-Innovative Commercial Fitness Equipment, says the reasons exergaming has been slower to take off in Australia than in the United Kingdom and America is due to “lack of funding, knowledge about it and the fitness industry not changing with technology”.

Brett Young agrees. “There is a lack of practical examples of exergaming, and although there are instances of it in different gyms and YMCAs across Australia, it is always pushed towards children, and it is usually in the corner somewhere.”

Exergaming allows people to be in competition with either themselves or other players. The iDANCE2 system consists of 25 levels. Beginning at level one, players progress to higher levels as they get better and fitter.

“The best exergames allow you to be self competitive, cross competitive and co-operative. As long as you have one of those mechanisms for different people, they will figure out what they want to do,” Brett says.

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