Fitness facilities of the 21st century are evolving rapidly and becoming more member focused by offering products and services that meet the needs of entire families versus just single members. They are providing an environment that reinforces a sense of community for all members and staff. Facilities now offer products and services specifically for adults (males only and females only) as well as kids. This gives Mom and Dad the opportunity to bring the kids to their neighborhood club for a family outing. Unfortunately, when you walk into any traditional fitness facility or recreation center you notice three distinct things: (1) the products and services cater specifically to adults and couples, (2) childcare caters mainly to children under the age of 8 years and these children are in a separate environment far from their parents, and (3) very few members are smiling while they are engaged in their chosen physical activity.
In today’s face-paced world it is increasingly difficult to find time to dedicate to reconnecting family. Not only does a family need to find an environment that appeals to each member, but they also need to find activities that the whole family can enjoy. Both the environment and the activity need to be safe for all participants, be fun and motivating and provide an overall positive experience.
If a fitness facility is supposed to build a sense of community and reinforce strong family values how can this be accomplished if parents and kids do not have an opportunity to interact with one another? What offering is there for youth and teens who are especially in need of guidance and strong role models? How can parents be good fitness role models when they are separated from their kids?
THINK F-F, F-F, F
Are you part of some family? If so you should expect your fitness facility to deliver accordingly.
FAMILY-FRIENDLY Don’t let them get by with a token “family” gesture. Some wear the name but don’t play the game. If your facility doesn’t offer multiple opportunities for the family to play together then let them know that they need to do more. If they are really serious about family they’ll offer an extremely cool playground, the latest in interactive fitness technologies, family events/ programs/ services and staff professionally trained in “family”.
FAITH-FOCUSED Putting Christian principles into practice is a nice sounding manefesto. But, does your fitness facility deliver the goods? How much Christian lifestyle content is there for your family? Is it all fun and games or do they bring it all together by regularly helping your family to focus on your faith? Is there family-to-family fellowship, reinforcement of Bible-based family roles, and access to faith-based family support services?
FUN If you find you currently don’t have much fun with your family then get your life in order pronto. If your faith and fitness don’t lead to a big smile on your face then neither are worth much to you. Fun to some extent is something you choose and create. But – if your fitness facility makes either faith or fitness so serious that you can’t have fun then they don’t really understand what you value. When the answer to, “Did you have fun” is “Yeah, let’s do it some more” then you likely will.
Video Games Get a Fitness Makeover
Along side the traditional cardio equipment, strength training machines and free weights there is a “new kid on the block” in the war against the “Battle of the Bulge”. It is proving to be beneficial in building stronger families. Video games and their cousins, interactive fitness technologies, are the newest additions to fitness facilities and community recreation centers across North America and around the world. Unlike their fitness equipment counterparts that are geared more towards adult use, this new category of equipment is appealing to youngsters as well as adults.
With the new interactive fitness technologies available today, it is surprisingly easy to workout, lose weight, and have fun. These technologies take the excitement and familiarity of the most common interactive entertainment offerings and bring them to an active environment where the joystick is taken out of the hands and replaced with the movement of the human body. They also take the social aspect of video game experiences to further provide an environment that is high energy and fun.
The participant is required to simulate movements using their bodies to react to challenges on the LCD screen. By moving feet to matching arrows and music, to peddling faster to make your car pick up speed these games are getting people moving in new and exciting ways. Now the goal of keeping fit is more easily accomplished by adding fun and dynamic “interactive” videogames into any exercise routine, at the gym, in schools, and even at home.
These interactive fitness video games also provide unique social experiences coupled with physical movement and activity. Because most games are played in pairs these games provide an opportunity to participate in a social environment. Games can be modified for each participant’s skill level which allows for a wide variety of ages and abilities to participate in a single environment. This opens the door to whole families participating in unique physical activities that are exciting, motivating, and challenging for everyone.
The Alarming Statistics About Today’s Youth
The World Health Organization (WHO) released some staggering statistics regarding the current state of obesity around the world, and the results are rather alarming. Based on WHO's reports, there are currently more than 1 billion adults who are overweight, and at least 300 million of those are clinically obese. Current obesity levels range from below 5% in China, Japan and certain African nations, to over 75% in urban Samoa.
An estimated 22 million children under five are overweight worldwide. According to the US Surgeon General, in the USA the number of overweight children has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has tripled since 1980. The prevalence of obese children aged 6 to 11 years has more than doubled since the 1960s.
What caused this change? What factors have contributed to this drastic increase? Is the current state of the world's health problems the direct result of our fast paced lives, where there seems to be less and less time for ourselves, cutting corners to speed up the process? Is technology to blame for the current state of world health? Are kids spending too much time staying indoors, watching countless hours of television and refusing to go outside unless it is to go from home to school and then back again?
THE SIMPLE FAMILY FITNESS SELF-SURVEY
- What kinds of exercise does our family enjoy? How often do we exercise together?
- What kinds of physical play do we like to do together? What sedentary activities can we replace with play?
- What kinds of physical work do we need to accomplish or could we donate to someone? What can I do to assure that the family work is followed by family rest?
- What kinds of healthy foods does our family like or would be willing to try? What do we need to do to make a meal a healthy and family experience?
The issues of obesity extends beyond physical appearance and can result in numerous health problems that often times stem from unhealthy lifestyle habits and choices. Being overweight can lead to adverse metabolic effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin resistance. Besides those life threatening conditions, there are also debilitating health problems such as respiratory difficulties, chronic musculoskeletal problems, skin problems and infertility.
So How is Interactive Fitness Technology Making a Difference?
The problem with incorporating regular exercise into a weekly routine is finding activities that are engaging, motivating, and get the body moving. The type of exercise that might be right for one person could be completely wrong for another. One person could love nothing more than walking a mile around the neighborhood, while another person would avoid the walk as it seems more like a chore than a fun activity. The key is to find a physical activity that meets the motivational needs of the individual that is also enjoyable and fun. This is especially true for youth and teens as they require a higher degree of motivation when it comes to participating in physical activity in today’s “high tech” environment.
Video games and technology-based entertainment have been traditionally blamed for the sedentary lifestyles of youth and adults. So you may find it to be quite a surprise that the ultimate physical activity solution would be found in front of a viewing screen with a PlayStation2 or Xbox attached. Welcome to the world of Interactive Fitness!
Let’s take a look at some of the exciting new technologies that you may see in your fitness club or recreation facility that families can use to interact and motivate one another in an effort to get fit and stay healthy.
The Dance Dance Revolution Experience
Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) is the most recognized interactive fitness workout game, and it is the driving force behind the purchase of other related movement based games available to the consumer today, either in arcades, fitness facilities, or for home use. The DDR arcade machine features a giant cabinet, two dance floors on a metal base, and a visual screen for you to look at so you know what move to press and when. You'll pick songs of various difficulties and styles, and then you have to press corresponding positions on the dance floor depending on what arrow is about to hit the screen: when you see an up arrow you press on the up button, down for down, left for left, and right for right.
You wouldn't think a game sounding so simple would become a national pastime in countries that span the globe, but it did just that, and it's all because of the dancing. There is just something innately cool about walking past an arcade and seeing some guy or girl breaking out quick steps and dance moves that go above and beyond simply pressing the buttons; these people know how to dance with style. If you've been lucky enough to see a skilled player play the game or either catch video footage of one of the many competitions, you'll see what the game is really about and just how much of a workout you can actually get from the game!
The benefits of DDR as an exercise and workout system are so widely known now that caloric counters have been included with the fitness facility and home versions of the games so that you can keep track of just how much you are burning while dancing away to popular music tracks. Not only that, but actual school systems have gone so far as to include DDR sessions in actual PE and Health classes.
The state of West Virginia and DDR publisher Konami recently announced that all 765 public schools in the state would include the game into its curriculum over the next two years. The program will start with the state's 103 middle schools, which will each be outfitted with an Xbox, a copy of "DDR Extreme 2" and two dance mats as the curriculum kicks in during the next couple of months. The hope in West Virginia is that DDR will help kids sweat off the weight and lead to a healthier school system in general.
Re-Inventing the Wheel
Spinning and cycling classes are a great way to burn calories and get your heart pumping, but sometimes the music alone just isn’t enough to keep participants motivated to pedal intently for the entire session. For some having to "imagine climbing a hill" through the workout isn’t enough to make it feel like the real thing and isn’t motivating enough to keep participants coming back time and time again. Some gyms have started to choose giant video displays or personal displays that actually give you a re-creation of the real-to-life biking experience. Riders see the actual scenery of a real bike ride. It helps them to stay engaged and actually makes them feel like they are biking outside of a cramped room.
A few companies have gone a step further and are actually combining the virtual reality experience with bicycling so that you actually power the game with your legs and feet! The Cateye GameBike PRO, for example, is now being offered in fitness clubs that have added Playstation2 and Xbox consoles to the cardio workout area. It’s perfect for almost every racing game out there that doesn't require overly complex controls.
Interactive Fitness Technologies are a great tool to help promote vigorous exercise and wholesome family interaction. It is especially useful for quick and convenient activity and when outdoor whether limits your activities. It is also quite cost effective for families. However, don’t be afraid to take it to the next level. If you dance, bike, golf, do martial arts, or whatever with interactive technology you can do it for real too. Once you’ve refined some skills on the technology you can do the real thing as an entire family or perhaps just as a one-on-one parent/ child activity. Take salsa lessons, plan a day-long bike tour, schedule a tee time or enroll in a karate class. Many of these activities can be scheduled through your church or as a church/community fitness facility joint venture.
The GameBike PRO works by plugging into the PS2/Xbox console and acting like a controller. After you choose your racing game (whether it be a motorcycle or car), it plays just like it always does, but with the handlebars controlling your direction and your peddling providing the gas your usual one finger button press would trigger. Not only is it an extremely immersive experience, but it will also give you one mighty workout.
Bicycling isn't the only exercise or sport being given the videogame treatment. Many other sports are hitting the digital realm also. Martial Arts and Golf are other sports and activities that are being added to the videogame offering and including interactive technologies.
Some Final Thoughts
Although Interactive Fitness is quite new to fitness facilities, schools, and community centers they are already proving to be a welcome addition and providing positive experiences for members of all ages. These entertainment-based physical fitness tools are motivating people to move in new and exciting ways in a non-competitive environment filled with fun, laughter, and social interaction that is seldom found anywhere else.
Now fitness facilities have the opportunity to provide a true family-based program and service offering where parents can be strong fitness role models in the presence of their children and offer physical fitness challenges that include young children as well as teens. Fitness facilities are safe, secure and a community environment that can now truly bring families together with the addition of Interactive Fitness.
Andrea Oh works with iTECH Fitness, a Colorado-based company, that brings these Interactive Fitness technologies and many others to fitness clubs, schools and community centers around the world. They help to create a total interactive fitness experience that brings these games together in a fun-filled, high energy setting with their signature interactive fitness solution, iGROUPXSM. iGROUPXSM “puts the fitness back into fun!”