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Video Game Helps People Lose Weight


June 16, 2008
By NEW YORK (AP)

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NEW YORK (AP) – It seemed nothing could get Matt Keane to give up the
junk food and start exercising, even when a doctor’s scale registered
his weight at 460 pounds.

NEW YORK (AP) – It seemed nothing could get Matt Keane to give up the junk food and start exercising, even when a doctor’s scale registered his weight at 460 pounds.
 
Until a friend introduced him to Dance Dance Revolution, the popular Japanese video game that has players leap around on a platform as instructed by arrows – up, down, right or left – to a throbbing techno beat. The moves get faster and harder as players get better, making the game arduous, addictive and inadvertently aerobic.
 
“It all kind of clicked,” Keane says. “I remember playing this game so much that I was sweating through my shirt and I didn’t even notice. I was having so much fun I didn’t realize I was getting tired.”

shakeitHe was hooked, and in less than a year, Keane – now a 21-year-old college student from Charleston, S.C. – had lost 150 pounds by dancing up a storm, at home and at the mall.

Usually a sedentary activity, video games might seem an unlikely weapon in the battle of the bulge, yet over the past few years “exertainment” – a merging of exercise and electronic entertainment – has helped the industry’s image as well as its profit margins.
 
Health-wise, Keane offers a needed success story: the percentage of overweight children and adolescents in the United States has almost quadrupled since the 1980s, according to the American Heart Association. The situation is only worsened by reduced education budgets that eliminate things like after-school sports and facilities for physical education classes.
 
With dance simulation video games making exercise fun and hip, parents, teachers and doctors are starting to pay attention. And manufactures are hoping to capitalize.
 
Red Octane, the California-based producer of the game In the Groove, tested its product over the past year among 120 third and fourth graders in Redmond, Ore. Schools from Hawaii to West Virginia are also incorporating dance games into the school day, through their own initiatives and collaborations with corporations and state education departments.
 
“We started by saying, ‘Let’s get children having more fitness in their day,”’ product marketer Judy Shasek said of the Redmond project, which she and her colleagues supervised. “But it impacted them in ways you couldn’t buy.”
 
Over about five months, Shasek said students showed improvements in multiple areas – better one-mile runs, increased focus and fewer incidents of acting up in class.
 
A recent Pennsylvania study of 35 adolescents found that, on average, Dance Dance Revolution elevated players’ heart rates to double their resting level over a 45-minute period, according to one of the study’s coordinators, Stephen Yang.
 
“There is no doubt the games are great exercise,” Yang said, “but first and foremost, they’re fun.”
Just check out your local video arcade for proof.
 
On a recent afternoon at Manhattan’s Time Square, a crowd gathered outside the window of Lazer Park to watch two teenagers play Dance Dance Revolution. Clearly veterans of the game, the boys performed jumps, spins and breakdance-style floor moves. When the song finished, the crowd cheered and clapped as the players, glossy with sweat, kept going, this time to techno version of Cher’s Believe.
 
Adults are getting into the act, too.
 
Elizabeth Burton, 23, and her co-workers at the New York City multimedia post-production company Editional Effects, sometimes stay late to play Dance Dance Revolution in their office lounge instead of going to a bar.
“You get really into it,” she said. “I was at an airport recently, waiting in line, and I heard one of the DDR songs over the speakers. Without even realizing it, I started doing the steps.”

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It’s something Keane can understand.
 
When he started playing two years ago, people at the mall used to gawk at the sight of a nearly 500-pound guy dancing up a storm, but Keane says he was having such a blast he didn’t care.
 
“I’ve been overweight-to-obese all my life,” Keane says. “I guess I just really liked junk food and never really moved or did anything active. I was so out of shape that I remember losing my breath walking a single block.”
Not anymore. He still plays the games regularly and has added weight training to his fitness regimen. He has also shared his story on several gaming websites and chat forums, encouraging people of all ages and sizes to dust off their dancing shoes.


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