free-ranging conversation with ernie medina, an exergaming evangelist

May 27, 2010

in free-ranging conversations (interviews with wellness innovators),health games

ernie medina is a preventive care specialist and CEO, co-founder, and chief exergaming specialist with medplay technologies. he’s a well-known speaker, board member on american college of lifestyle medicine, former executive director of the american preventive care association, and a certified health and fitness specialist with american college of sports medicine. picking up from my conversation with melanie lazarus at archimage about health games in general, i asked ernie a few more questions about health games and exergames, in particular.

fm: i know you’re a huge physical activity enthusiastgaming revolution. me too. i’m a real you-know-what without it.

em: a lot of individuals don’t understand that they’ll be more productive, more efficient, and have better sleep just by being physically active. when people get that, they’ll say: “how can i not do it?” president obama, the day after his inauguration, was photographed coming out of the gym. if we were elected president, wouldn’t we take the day off?

fm: there’s a great spread on the 20-somethings in obama’s office. In it, one of the staffers talks about the culture of health obama’s brought into the white house. but what you’re saying, don’t we know all of this?

em: people may know it, but they’re not internalizing it—or they really don’t believe it. some doctors don’t even promote physical activity, mainly because they don’t practice it themselves. they’re biased against physical activity because of their own habits and because they feel people won’t exercise, either.

fm:  you’re saying if we internalized the benefits, we’d make exercise a priority that didn’t shift because of money, time, or something else. so how then do we get people to internalize the need to exercise?

em: it needs to be customized to meet their individual needs and desires―find out what they want in life, and then show them how physical activity can help them get it. we also have to find out what their obstacles are to exercise. that’s where exergaming comes in because it can overcome most, if not all, the obstacles.

my wife is a loner; she’s not the club type. she exercises on her own on trails or on the treadmill. another person may have equipment at home, but needs accountability. then there are others who don’t like exercise at all. with them, you need to focus on the fun. exergames, sports, ballroom dancing. the exercise isn’t the main thing. it’s fun. stealth exercise!

fm: stealth exercise. i love it! it’s like when i exercise at 5:30 a.m. i’m halfway through before i’m actually awake. how does it work with exergaming?

em: the original word for exergaming was exertainment. exercise that’s entertaining. when you’re running on a treadmill and watching a dvd, that dvd is a carrot. that could be considered exertainment, but the action has no impact on the movie. exergaming dictates what you see on the screen. it’s not a distraction.

fm: i’m not seeing where accountability comes into play.

em: right now, the most common form of accountability within exergames are logs that track your workout and avatars that “admonish” you if you’ve missed too many sessions. but because exergames are digital, i predict that we’ll soon see exergames connecting into the health care digital loop. i can prescribe an exergame as a workout to a patient, who then goes home and works out on that exergame, which could be online-based. the online exergame documents their workout in their electronic health record and notifies me with a text message or e-mail warning if this patient hasn’t met preset exercise goals within the game. i can then contact that patient and intervene within the week instead of waiting a month or more before i see them for a follow-up in my office.

making lifestyle changes requires this kind of constant feedback monitoring loop between patient and health care provider, whether it be weight loss, stress management, smoking cessation, etc. the fun aspect of the exergame will keep the patient compliant while the digital aspect will keep the health care provider apprised of their progress. if the patient knows that their exergame will be communicating with their health care providers, that’s a major incentive for making playing the exergame a high priority. then whenever they lapse, we can intervene early on and help them see the importance of maintaining this new behavior.

fm: what exergames do you like?

em: the exergame i like and play the most is the wii, because we have that at home. i like the eye toy because it allows someone to play while seated. i’m eager to see the games that will come out for microsoft’s natal and sony’s new eye toy camera―both work as a 3-d camera (the original eye toy is only two-dimensional). if i want a more intense workout, i tend to like the cycling exergames, like the gamebike. i haven’t tried brainbike, but that looks very interesting to me. i also like the makoto and 3 kick because i like to kick, punch, and hit things. and finally, i like the trazer because that was the very first exergame that got me started on this whole journey, and it’s very intense and competitive to boot!

one that I’d like to play more is the lightspace play floor or wall. with lightspace play floor, you step on a floor made up of lots of LED lights. you play a game, based on the movement of the lights. there’s no screen, but you’re interacting with the game.

fm: how expensive are these games? could companies put them in the break room? make them part of their employee wellness program?

em: the exergaming network (TEN) is a great place to start. also, exergame fitness lists most of the exergames out there, and you can see they range in costs and space requirements. with our company, medplay technologies, we’ve set up exergames indoors and outside. so as long as we have electricity, we can set up an exergame.


know someone who would make a great free-ranging conversation? let me know in the comments, by email (fran @, or DM.

more on the topic:

[image: threadless “the gaming revolution”]

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