Being your own joystick

Still exercising in the real world? Lunge your way into the future with the Cybex Trazer. Simply put, it's a video game played with the whole body instead of just the fingers of one hand.

Slip an electronic belt around your waist and you become the Trazer joystick. On the monitor, select from a menu of games, drills or calorie burning. Set the challenge level and game time, and start the clock.

Like the gamers who have lost weight playing Wii Sports, Nintendo's sports simulation program, Trazer athletes quickly discover there's nothing passive about becoming one with the action. Even conditioned athletes quickly reach their target heart zone.

The Trazer is proving popular in three areas, says Paul Dolan, Cybex assistant vice president of sales and business development: Fitness programs to get kids up and active; physical therapy for people recovering from lower body injury, and high-end personal training for sports performance.

"It enhances your athleticism tremendously," says Clarence Cook, director of fitness at the Allentown Jewish Community Center, breathing hard after just a few minutes of Trazer's Trapdoor game. Moving back and forth to dodge pits that open in a grid on the screen enhances agility and precision, he explains. And if you don't move fast enough, the game shuts down. Other games involve jumping up to catch basketballs or shooting soccer goals. Excitement builds as the game progresses and the chore of exercise turns into a game - and the minutes fly by.

The JCC recently purchased the Trazer, just one of about 400 worldwide, for use by fitness program members at all levels of strength and ability, both young and old. Workouts can be attuned to improving sports performance, losing weight or developing balance for fall prevention. Other features allow individuals to use a personal ID to measure and keep track of their performance over time, and gradually increase workout intensity.

The exer-gaming revolution was pioneered several years ago by Dance Dance Revolution, an arcade game that challenges participants to follow dance moves, and the virtual gym is quickly filling up with other interactive activities, including virtual dirt bikes and virtual snowboards.

Research on the benefits of these activities is just beginning. An interactive fitness research lab opened in January at the University of South Florida in Tampa. "We are setting up a study that will look at interactive fitness as a whole, and how it encourages children to be physically active," says Lisa Witherspoon, doctoral student in charge of the project. The lab will teach undergrads how to incorporate interactive fitness into physical education classrooms. "We want to see if this could be a partial solution for the epidemic of childhood obesity," says Witherspoon.