As a precursor to the upcoming Games for Health event in Boston we sat down with Dr. Ernie Medina Jr. to discuss the potential benefits of exergaming and why he see’s it to be such a valuable tool.

1.      What made you choose to work with Exergaming?

My day job as a preventive care specialist (think combo exercise physiologist/nutritionist/behavior counselor) in a medical group, I’m always looking for ways to motivate our patients to be more physically active. I came across my first exergaming product back in ’98 while at a conference in Orlando. I saw the Trazer at the Celebration Health Center, and was immediately captivated by this girl playing a video game by using her whole body! After that, I went to whatever I could (E3, CES, etc.) to learn more about video games and exergaming since I am NOT a hardcore video gamer!

Now, after a decade of being immersed in this field, I see an ever growing future in exergaming in promoting physical activity and health behavior changes, especially as a our healthcare system gets overhauled, focus more on prevention (and not just vaccinations, but healthy lifestyles), and move over to EMRs.  This convergence of games for health and healthcare will continue to improve our evidence based medicine as we know it.

2.  With the rise in childhood obesity and type II diabetes in youngsters, do you feel that Exergaming is a step in helping to solve the problem with our society?  If so, why?

Most definitely! I’m seeing these types of kids in the clinic and XRtainment Zone on a regular basis, and they are the ones who who normally don’t like to exercise or eat right. I’ve seen exergaming get kids sweaty and parents tell me, “I’ve never seen my kid sweat this much before!”. These are the same kids you can’t get to do ONE lap around the track! And yet, they’ll run on a j-mat for an hour! I see exergaming as meeting these kids where they are at. In time, it may be a “gateway” to other forms of PA because they will have lost weight, gotten in better shape, and improved there self-esteem and self-efficacy. Our challenge is to keep move them to long-term compliance, because like anything else, once the newness wears off, kids are off looking for something else! So we are working on how to get kids to maintain this form of PA long enough to get the benefits.

Besides PA, I see the next crop of exergames incorporating nutrition lessons in a subtle way, so that kids can learn about good eating habits as well as get a workout. This form of media has a lot of potential for changing lifestyle behaviors, and we’re just scratching the surface.

3.  Most exergaming equipment can be rather pricy.  Are there alternatives to purchasing equipment such as creating your own, and are there grants out there for a teacher/educator to help add these types of equipment into his/her physical education program?

That is actually a misconception. there are some pieces that are expensive, but look at a Wii or Xavix console and they are very affordable. Interestingly, most kids who need this, even if they are in a low SES, already have a Xbox or PS2 or Wii, so it’s just a matter of getting the right games for health to them. So the “high cost of acquisition” is really a myth. Hmm, creating your own may be tough, since R & D can be expensive. That’s why my company, MedPlay Technologies, is working with the video game industry to create the next wave of exergames and games for health, and make it a win win for everyone. There are grants out there. PE4Life would be a good place to start! Also Judy Shasek, of Footgamers, has a great website with a lot of resources for teachers as well. She is bringing exergaming right into the classroom and not focusing on the PE route.

4.  Do you feel that there should be more advocacy for making Exergaming equipment more affordable for families in their homes or is getting and “Exergamin experience” at school good enough for children? Definitely! That’s why I an others are involved with organizations like the American College of Sports Medicine (an assoc. focused on physical activity and sports) and the American Public Health Assoc., with has the newly formed Physical Activity Special Interest Group. By networking with experts and professionals from these types of associations, we can introduce exergaming in more places from the top down, maybe even make it part of the PA policy and dialogue!

Ernie Medina, Jr., DrPH, CHFS
Exergaming Evanglist &
Physical Activity Evangelist

MedPlay Technologies, LLC
CEO/Co-founder
ernie@medplaytech.com

Beaver Medical Group
Preventive Care Specialist
emedina@epiclp.com