• Robb G. Best

The Fun Frontier

If you’re not, say, a recent time traveler from the Middle Ages, by now you’ve probably heard that exercise is good for you. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you likely also know that exercise benefits the brain in a seemingly ever-expanding list of ways. Regular aerobic activity has been found to increase memory, boost cognitive skills, fight depression, and slow the effects of age-related mental fog, among other things.

There’s just one problem: it’s not necessarily a good time.

For the less athletic among us, mention of exercise can conjure flashbacks of high school gym class, of dodgeball injuries and rope-climbing humiliations. And while the ability to make a mad dash for it has surely saved our species on countless occasions, the body may not feel rewarded in the early days of a jogging routine. Some can rely on the rosy glow of personal satisfaction and the legendary “runner’s high” to stay on the exercise train, while others may need a bit more of an incentive to lace up those sneakers or pick up those weights.

That’s where exergaming comes in. The term dates from 2007, but the concept has been around for decades: why not combine physical activity with technology to create a video game that actually gets you off the couch?

For instance, Dance Dance Revolution took the late nineties and early 2000’s by storm. A rhythm game played by rapidly tapping different sensors with your feet, DDR caused many a nerd to work up a sweat—and yes, dance (sort of). More recently, the Nintendo Wii console has become a fixture in some nursing homes, helping senior citizens stay active in their twilight years. This simple device allows the user to simulate playing a variety of sports from the comfort of one’s own home, including tennis, bowling, and golf.

For anyone looking to inject a little more adrenaline into their jogging experience, the app Zombies, Run places you directly in the story of a small post-apocalyptic settlement, via audio clips that play between your running music. Through these tiny, well-acted chunks of narration, an epic story unfolds about trying to save humanity while fleeing from zombies. The clips play whether you run, walk, or even stand there, but the more you run, the more vivid and immersive the story feels.

And while home Virtual Reality (VR) headsets are still in the early days, it’s easy to imagine the gamified workout possibilities. Just as exciting: a recent study suggests that lifting weights while engaging in a virtual reality weightlifting scenario can both decrease your perceived pain and boost your weightlifting performance. Perhaps in the future, VR headsets will be as common in gyms as treadmills. “Plug in,” we’ll say, “it’s for your health.”

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