The World Health Organization (WHO) announced last month that a lack of physical activity accounts for 5 million deaths and costs the world $67.5 billion a year in healthcare expenses. In 2014, over 1.9 billion adults (39% of adults) were overweight — 600 million of whom were obese (13%). An estimated 41 million kids under the age of 5 years were also overweight or obese.
Even more frightening is that this is no longer a high-income country problem. Obesity is on the rise in both low and mid-income countries, especially in urban areas. Globally, more people are obese than underweight in every region (except parts of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia) and overweightness and obesity are linked to more deaths than underweight.
Looking to our future, the prevalence of overweight or obese kids and adolescents increased by nearly 50% between 1980 and 2013, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) published in The Lancet in May. Nearly half of the children under 5 living in Asia in 2014 were overweight or obese, while the number of overweight or obese kids in Africa rose by 96% to 10.6 million in 2014.
An international panel of experts has concluded that physical activities before, during and after school increase academic performance and improve brain function, cognition and brain structure in 6 to 18 year olds. Additionally, regular exercise helps develop life skills, increase motivation and boost self-esteem.
What can we do to encourage kids (and maybe ourselves too) to get physical? If the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio aren’t inspiring enough, then perhaps showcasing these five inventive ways to get kids interested from an early age will do the trick!
Gaming – turning exercise into a game
Trampolining is a competitive Olympic sport, but also a well-known way to get kids outside and exercising. But, sometimes even this is not enough! Instead of fighting against digital technology, Springfree Trampolines and digital gaming company Tgoma (which stands for “take gaming outside and make it active”) have partnered to turn any trampoline into an outdoor interactive digital gaming system – where you jump controls the game that is on your tablet!
There are seven interactive games, both educational and fun such as Stickers where kids create shapes and sounds, Math Hopper which teaches maths to young kids, Fruitant for older kids and even adult ones in 2048 and tgomaFit.
Targeted at kids, powaband is a wearable that integrates physical exercise into any gaming platform such as Xbox One, PS4, Wii, tablets and mobiles, by using a wearable monitor and points system to unlock cool features. Through the fitness band it measures physical activity, but ties it to the kids favourite games by giving them in-game rewards, unlocks, boosts and other game relevant bonuses the more exercise they do! The only thing to watch out for is in-game purchases, but there are parental controls.
c) MadRat SuperSuit
SuperSuit is a wearable gaming platform billed as “laser tag meets PlayStation” and “a PlayStation or Xbox that you can wear”. It is designed to reduce screen time for kids and to increase their social interaction and physical activities.
The user straps on a Super Vest and a Super Glove and pockets a Super Beacon to play a variety of games or to control external ‘bots’ such as model cars or drones through hand gestures. It’s a standalone system that doesn’t need Wi-Fi or any connection to another device to work so can be used easily both inside and out.
The suit’s accompanying smartphone app allows parents to monitor their kid’s fitness data as well as tracking their location through Bluetooth technology. It comes with 15 pre-loaded games such as laser tag, hide and seek and Robin Hood, but can be used for all other sorts of outdoor games and can enable up to 30 or 40 kids to play physical games together. To ensure it stays fresh, it will be open to game developers to create and bring more games to the platform.
The good news is that it comes in a universal size that fits 7 year olds to adults. Before you get too excited the suit is still in prototype, but is available to pre-order with the first models expected to ship during Q4 2016.
2) Nurturing – keeping your digital pet alive through exercise
a) LeapBandLeapfrog LeapBand was the first kid’s fitness tracker targeted at 4 to 7 year olds. It’s a Tamagotchi style activity tracker that promotes ‘healthy habits’ in kids through 50 physical educational and fun games such as getting your kid to wiggle like a worm or march like an elephant! Kids choose a ‘customizable pet pal’ from eight different pets that include a cat, dog, dragon, monkey, panda, penguin, unicorn and a robot, which are fed and nurtured via the mini-games. They get to unlock new pets through winning credits for completing micro-goals throughout the day. If a hyper kid strikes you with fear, then no worries, as every fourth activity challenge is a “cool down” challenge.
It has motion sensors which connect to an app that allows parents to see and track their kid’s activity levels and control parental settings such as limiting play time during the day, or setting the LeapBand to silent mode when the kids are asleep or in school.
Wokamon (short for Walking Monsters) from China is a virtual pet app that combines the function of a GPS-enabled pedometer with caring for a pet. It requires kids to walk and exercise in order to feed their pet and keep them alive. The more active the user is, the more their Wokamon grows and flourishes, as it feeds off users’ burnt calories and turns them into happiness credits. It’s promoted as ‘the virtual pet that makes you sweat”!
Its advantage is that it can be synced with a user’s existing fitness wristbands and apps including Fitbit, Jawbone and Move, with syncing times seven times more frequent than that for regular fitness wristbands, according to a test run by the company.
c) Owl Fitness Tracker
Owl is a fitness tracker and app that also uses the concept of caring for a virtual pet as an incentive to help kids stay active and to develop healthy lifestyle habits. A user sets activity goals such as counting their steps, and when these are met virtual in-app points are earned that are used to buy food for their owl. Consistent, point earning exercises keeps their pet happy. If their exercise levels fall then so, does their pets disposition!
3) Virtual Reality – fly while you exercise with Icaros
Probably one more for adults, German HYVE Innovation Design created Icaros, a virtual reality exercise machine that lets users fly whilst burning calories and toning muscles! The game simulates flying above the sky, landscapes, through the perfect wave, through canyons and out of space, and at the same time offers a comprehensive full body workout. Future games planned include a motorcycle race, an air fight, a multiplayer air race and a submarine obstacle run.
The machine itself is wireless and runs on rechargeable batteries, and works with both Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR headsets. It launched this year initially for businesses like gyms and hotels but, for those inclined, the possibility of a home machine has been mooted!
4) Reward – 3d printed chocolate when you exercise with EdiPulse
Last year the Exertion Games Lab at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) tested whether people would do more exercise if they were rewarded with treats via EdiPulse. The treats was chocolate; a 3D food printer was used to print an amount of chocolate based on how much the user exercised!
EdiPulse uses a heart rate monitor to measures beats per minute and sends that information through to an app that translates the data for the 3D food printer. The printer then prints either a chocolate message or emoticon. The harder the user works, the thicker the chocolate and the happier the emoticon face. Workout duration was divided into 5 minute intervals with each interval equalling one printed letter.
As chocolate and exercise are not traditional bedfellows, only antioxidant-rich dark chocolate was used, together with a daily restriction of only 30mls which is about two small blocks from a 200g block of chocolate!
5) Social – Asphalt Green, an arcade style gym
Finally, Asphalt Green, an arcade style gym that actually makes you want to exercise. A New York gym has been created that resembles a kiddie play area. It’s based on a high intensity interval circuit-based program (AG6) that claims to strengthen all the major muscle groups and burn up to 1,000 calories in 45 minutes!
The gym contains a PRAMA system which uses video game technology so that the walls and floors light up or make sounds when pressure is applied to them. Participants have to react to random LED light cues, which trains reflexes and muscle memory as well as generating short bursts of intense exercise. A session lasts 45 minutes and exercises are designed to build endurance, strength, balance, speed, agility, reaction time and overall fitness whilst having fun. Basically, everything you need to get fit and toned!