A new generation of digital gadgets may soon be as essential for fitness as sneakers.

That was the word from Ernie Medina, Jr., DrPH, a preventive care specialist from Redlands, CA who uses interactive video games—“exergames”—and digital devices to monitor and motivate his sedentary patients. Medina, who calls himself “The Exergaming Evangelist,” gave a rundown on cool new digital tools at the recent Health and Fitness Summit held by the American College of Sports Medicine. Because they’re fun and accessible, Medina says, gadgets and games can “overcome most of the obstacles and excuses that people have about exercise” at any age.

Among his current favorites:

*The Fitbit Tracker: Motion sensors similar to those in Nintendo Wii games to monitor every step wearers take, how much sleep they get, and calories consumed and burned. These statistics are transmitted to a website for recording and analysis. Eventually, Medina says, such trackers might link to your doctor’s Electronic Medical Records, the better to oversee your health between appointments.

*Zamzee: Developed by nonprofit videogame incubator HopeLab and scheduled for introduction in summer 2011, this tracker aims to combat childhood obesity by getting inactive kids 11-14 moving with rewards for exercise. Wearers win points that are redeemable for virtual goods, real gift cards, or donations to charity.

*MayaFit: Starring a sexy digital trainer named Maya who has been inspiring gym-goers for several years, this motion-tracking software will be available soon for home TVs and computers.

The ever-expanding variety of exergames now range from baseball and bowling to mixed martial arts and yoga. Popular exergames like WII Boxing and Dance Dance Revolution, notes Medina, have caught on with school PE programs from California to West Virginia, as well as cardiac rehabilitation facilities. (The dance program is even a hit at Camp David, where, according to Michelle Obama, the First Family finds it “addictive in a very good way.”)

A growing body of research demonstrates that interactive videogames can equal or exceed the calorie-burning and cardiovascular benefits of regular exercise. In one recent study published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, for example, researchers at Brigham Young University determined that  the more active sports and dance games boosted energy expenditure as much or more as walking on a treadmill at 3 mph. Says Medina, who’s working on a smart phone app of his own for a “mobile adventure walk” and trying to organize a National Active Gaming League to encourage healthy competition, “The heart doesn’t care if you’re boxing an imaginary TV character or a real punching bag.”


For more about exergaming research and development, go to Exergames Unlocked, operated by the Learning Games Lab at New Mexico State University.  For more about current fitness news, go to the American College of Sports Medicine website. To read about other uses of digital games, see our blog entries, Video Games Get Seniors Moving and Games for Health Overview.