Weekend Edition

The new PE class: Active gaming

As an Olympic gold medalist, the idea of computer screens and joysticks replacing jump ropes and balls in Physical Education classes seems quite foreign. But the new gym class brings Active Gaming and technology to the forefront. Today kids are spending upwards of 40 hours a week in front of a computer, video or television screen, so Active Gaming advocates say why not bring them a game that doesn't just entertain them but also exercises their bodies?

To explore the possibilities, we paid a visit to Belle Witter Elementary School in Tampa, Florida, a trailblazer when it comes to incorporating Active Gaming as part of its PE classes. The students were eager to teach me how to play, and then even more motivated to compete against me. I wanted to experience this new PE firsthand, so I was up for the education -- and the challenge. At first I was a bit skeptical. Can simply adding some type of movement give you a good workout while you're playing a video game? I grew up competing with my older sister on Nintendo's Power Pad, so I had some small idea of what I was in for.

My first challenge was on Game Bikes, where you ride a bike through a virtual course. Immediately I felt the burn. Maybe I should have warmed up! It reminded me of my spinning class at the gym -- I signed up once and never returned. Enough said. Game Bikes was not nearly as intense as spinning, but it did give my legs a good workout, and I felt my heart rate increasing rapidly. I accepted my defeat from a very proud elementary student, who pedaled effortlessly and touted himself as a BMX athlete, might I add. Hmm. Maybe that explains the whooping.

3-Kick was my next challenge, involving kicking and punching with speed while striking multiple padded targets. I felt a bit more confident in this one, since I have a white belt in tae kwon do. As with Game Bikes, 3-Kick provided me with a spike in my heart rate. The bursts of kicking and punching at targets while shuffling side to side tested both my speed and my agility. And once again, I was defeated by a student. I guess my white belt wasn't so helpful -- though it is also the belt everyone receives when they first walk into the dojo.

My final challenge was Dance, Dance Revolution, a game I was already quite familiar with. Clearly, having rhythm is a prerequisite for scoring points but is not needed for a great workout. I finished up with zero points but with a good sweat. As the student and I danced to the fast music, I added several jumps to intensify the cardiovascular benefits.

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Lost treasures

At the end of the day I somehow still had enough energy to endure a series of heart tests at the Active Game Research Lab at the University of South Florida. Dr. Lisa Hansen hooked me up to a heart monitor and then had me perform a speed and agility test along with a tough boxing challenge. These exercises were much more intense than my games with the kids, so the testing didn't last long. Within the first few minutes my heart rate spiked, and I was sold on this new PE concept. I guess there comes a point where the old ways of doing things become, well, old. Move over jump ropes and balls -- make room for joysticks and monitors to get our kids active and engaged again.

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