Social Distancing measures mean spending a lot more time at home — a lot more time! There is a good chance this is making you (or someone like you — there is no judgment here) more sedentary and less physically active. Maintaining our physical and mental health requires that as much as possible we keep moving and exercising. This applies to everyone including kids, older adults, people with disabilities and those undergoing different forms of motor rehabilitation. Unfortunately, not many of us would describe exercising as fun and keeping up a fitness routine at home can be even more boring and discouraging. There’s hope in the form of a blast from that past…Exergaming.
The Nintendo Power Pad (Source: Wikipedia.org)
The origins of the concept go back to the 1980s with the (now) nostalgic old arcade gaming consoles (such as Atari 2600) which introduced the first balance boards, or the Nintendo Power Pad (introduced in 1986). But popularity really took off with the “Dance Dance Revolution” video game first released in 1998. The basic idea, then and now, is simple: get people to engage in exercise and physical activity by combining two powerful motivating tools gamification and virtual reality (no coincidence that these are also two areas of research and development at BISS). In its simplest form, exergaming is a videogame requiring body movements and action to progress. As the name suggests, in “Dance Dance Revolution” you dance to progress and to win. Today’s exergaming possibilities go way beyond dancing or the simple movements that were possible with the Atari 2600 of Power Pad.
Now, immersive Exergaming plunges you into a world of simulated bicycle tours, boat rowing, running races, swimming scenarios, (kick-) boxing rings, and tennis matches, or simply takes you into an active environment demanding workouts, jumping, squatting, Zumba, aerobics, the list goes on. One characteristic advantage of exergaming (in comparison to conventional forms of exercise) is external feedback, provided through information about performance and results that is gathered by the Exergaming system during the workout. For instance, during an exergame session, a user usually accumulates points/badges (scoreboards), and progress from lower to higher levels according to individual performance. In addition, once each session ends, you have a summary or report informing you how you did (results). Such features measure your progress, which can be both challenging and motivating. An additional benefit of lockdown exergaming is the possibility to engage in real-time multiuser games, in which the person interacts with other people in the same gaming environment (e.g., with friends, relatives, colleagues, online players). Such interaction can be competitive, collaborative or cooperative. Both external feedback and the option of multiuser interaction in real-time are key characteristics that make exergaming engaging, motivating and enjoyable.
Exergaming usually requires a video gaming console (or a head-mounted display), a motion capture system (usually both come together), a screen (or projector), and interactive devices such as a joystick, balance boards or gaming bikes. Some exergames will require considerable space to perform the required exercise. Having a garden, yard or a garage might be convenient for exergaming, but it is usually possible to adjust, for instance, the living room to engage properly into the game. Costs of exergaming equipment (i.e. console, accessories, and game) may be around $150, but can increase up to $1000+, for instance, when installing dedicated, specific devices such as a competition level gaming bike or rowing simulator.
Two kids exergaming together (Source: worryproofmd.com)
There are studies suggesting that, depending on the intensity and frequency, exergaming may help people get the recommended amount of physical activity, for example, in terms of energy expenditure, oxygen consumption and burnt calories while living in lockdown. However, researchers recommend exergaming as complementary to conventional physical activity (and not as a substitute). Furthermore, as in any kind of physical exercise, it is essential to adopt precautions, for instance to balance your breathing, heart rate, muscular exertion, joint movements and body posture. It is important to consider the risk that one is not performing the exercise correctly and safely. Exercising well incorporates both quantity (e.g. repetitions, frequency) and quality of physical activity. Do not hesitate to consult a physiotherapist to ensure that your posture, movements and routine strategy are adequate. In addition, as is the case when interacting with all digital technologies that gather data from the user, it’s important to remain alert concerning your privacy and empower yourself for management of your own generated data.
The invitation then is to go, exercise, mind your body and have fun. Be realistic with your aims and adapt your exergaming routine accordingly.
Desiderio researches how the responsible use of advanced technologies such as virtual and augmented reality can translate into healthcare applications and benefit clinical rehabilitation; and the potential of digital technologies to motivate and empower people to have healthier and satisfying lifestyles and positive behavioral (personal and societal) habits.
Desiderio is a Bioengineer from Universidad de Antioquia (Colombia). He conducted Master and PhD studies, respectively, in University of Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Tel Aviv University (Israel).