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Kids and Virtual Exercise



May 2007 --Kids like and need game-play.  Having a spinal cord injury doesn’t change that. Game-play and physical activity are essential for normal growth and development; however, children and adolescents with SCI often have limited options for performing either.


Mark Nash, Ph.D., has been funded by the Craig Neilsen Foundation to investigate whether adolescents with SCI can improve their fitness and wheelchair functions with exercise. Typically, exercises prescribed after SCI include upper extremity weight lifting, and endurance training with an arm cycle.  Most kids, as well as adults, find these types of exercises boring, and are therefore inconsistent in adopting or maintaining exercise habits.


But what if you could make the exercise more enjoyable?  Dr. Nash will study new methods of putting some fun back in fitness.  One of the methods will utilize the GameCycle®, an arm exercise device integrated with a Nintendo® GameCube video game system.  The child can control a game-play scenario, such as a car race, by using arm crank handles instead of hand controls. Is this exercise? Preliminary studies in Nash's lab show that the metabolic responses to this game-play actually exceed work intensities necessary to improve fitness in persons with spinal cord injuries.


Another new method of game-play exercise undergoing study uses virtual reality game environments, also popular with young people, to encourage children to perform weight lifting activities.  Dr. Nash will study a technology using ‘green screen capture’ that incorporates the child’s image in a variety of game-play settings viewed on a video monitor. Children will be linked to weight lifting equipment.  While playing the video game, the children will move their arms and thus perform resistance exercise.


Children between the ages of 8 and 18 who are at least one year post-injury and have SCI levels between C7 and L1 will be helping Dr. Nash learn more about these two forms of exercise.  The volunteers for the program will visit the laboratory three times a week for 16 weeks. Study participants are expected to improve their endurance and strength, reduce body fat, and improve their ability to propel their wheelchairs.


For more information about this study, send a message to Patricia Burns, Research Associate, at or call 305-243-7122.   


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