A Publication of WTVP

The RiverPlex will soon be offering a unique approach to traditional exercise with the opening of an exergaming studio this fall.

A relatively new concept, exergaming brings a whole new world—physical activity—to the generally sedentary pastime of video gaming. Instead of using hand controllers, participants use their bodies as controllers. While the idea is beginning to catch on nationally, exergaming is still in its infancy—and when the RiverPlex opens its studio sometime this September or October, it will be the only place like it between Chicago and St. Louis.

The studio will be open to all—from the very young to the very old. In addition to regular membership, the senior population, birthday
parties, lock-ins and field trips, RiverPlex Superintendent Brent Wheeler hopes to attract a more specific audience—at-risk or obese children. “We kept hearing about childhood obesity, and it didn’t feel right…There was this separate population out there who really needed our help, and we weren’t able to get to them,” Wheeler said.

That’s when the RiverPlex began looking into the exergaming concept. “We came to the realization that kids that are active are going to be active, but what do you do about those kids that don’t want traditional exercise? Most people don’t find traditional exercise to be a whole lot of fun.”

To that end, the RiverPlex is partnering with Exergame
Fitness, the largest distributor and supplier of exergaming and fitness products for children, to help fight the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. Those at Exergame Fitness saw the focus and passion that Wheeler and Matt Freeman, assistant general manager at the RiverPlex, brought to this issue.

“When we met with Brent and Matt, it seemed like a perfect fit. They wanted what we had, and we wanted what they had. Simply put, we joined forces to design something that will change the mindset and fitness makeup of kids around the world,” said Tommy Seilheimer, Vice President of Operations for Exergame Fitness.

With gaming systems like Dance Dance Revolution, a Nintendo Wii setup with interactive sports games and bikes with a variety of terrain
available through a screen, the RiverPlex will become the world’s first-ever exergaming research, development and deployment center. “Kids to seniors will be using the equipment so we can truly see what positive changes exergaming is going to have on the body, mind and spirit of all ages and sizes,” said Seilheimer.

For children who are at-risk or slightly obese, the RiverPlex will offer a 16-week program that combines exergaming with nutritional education. The nutritional component will be taught by OSF dieticians and will be required for participating children, as well as their parents. “Parents have to attend because we understand that it is the parent that is often the transportation—and the one putting the meals on the table,” explained Wheeler. “If we don’t get the parents to buy in—it’s [just] the 16 weeks, and then it’s back to the real world and who knows where it goes?”

Parents will also have the opportunity to exercise with the RiverPlex’s personal trainers, while their children participate in exergaming.
Another program more specifically targets children who are already clinically obese and will be based on physician referrals. Dr. Amy Christison, a Peoria-based pediatrician and educator, and several of her students volunteered to conduct a clinical study on the participating children. Christison brought medical and clinical backing and excitement to the passion already in place for exergaming, which helped to get plans moving forward. “We’re going to truly make a difference for some of these kids and capture their minds in ways that, quite honestly, traditional
exercise is never going to be able to do,” said Wheeler.

The goal is to transition these children by starting them with exergaming and then slowly bringing them to traditional exercise. “To think we can give these kids a better quality of life—that’s as good as it gets for us,” explained Wheeler. iBi