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iXercise: An Immersive Exergaming Platform to Promote Physical Activity in the Pediatric Population

  • Author(s): Huh, Yunho
  • Advisor(s): El Zarki, Magda
  • Aizik, Shlomit Radom
  • et al.

The benefits of regular physical activity are well known. In recent years, the health industry focused on developing motivational products to get people to exercise, with habit forming as a key concept. Studies that have shown that exergaming can result in immediate health benefits. However, benefits tend to be short term with a player’s initial excitement declining over time. Current exergames are unable to meet long-term exercising challenges because the underlying game design criterion to sustain player engagement is absent.

To address this issue, I incorporated innovative game design principles to create the iXercise platform, a virtual environment exergame that provides an adjusted intervention fitness program targeted to special needs populations. Chapter 2is focused on a discussion of the iXercise platform. I describe the system design and how I implemented the various iXercise system components such as a web-based interface, a cloud gaming application, middleware, sensors, embedded systems firmware and communication channels. In chapter 3, I introduce how a novel exergame, named “MineBike”, encourages and maintains the participant’s motivation. I describe game design elements for the immersive exergaming experience that encourages mid-to high-level exercise intensity. In chapter 4, I present the evaluation of the iXercise platform. To evaluate the platform, 1) exercise intensity (measured by workload) and duration was observed, 2) physiological responses (heart rate and oxygen uptake) was measured, 3) behavioral assessment (enjoyment, motivation and engagement) were assessed through a questionnaire, 4) correlation of physiological responses to game activities was observed, and 5) sex and age group differences were compared. Twenty-two 9-15 y/o healthy children were recruited for the study. Over three visits, the children exercised on an adjusted stationary bike and played the game for about 40 minutes while wearing multiple sensors. After each gameplay they answered behavioral assessment questionnaires.

From the collected results, I was able to observe that MineBike successfully increased participants’ heart rate (> 120 bpm) for the target time (20 minutes). Also, MineBike was able to induce mid- to high- intensity exercise. Survey results were universally positive. Children enjoyed the game, wanted to continue playing, and thought that they would be more motivated to exercise with the Minebike exergame than without. They remarked that they especially liked the game content and the bike pedaling experiences.

In summary, I, 1) developed the cloud based iXercise exergaming platform, 2) built prototype devices to retrofit exercise equipment, specifically cycle ergometers, 3) developed an exergame “MineBike” based on a popular game Minecraft, 4) collaborated with medical experts at the Pediatrics Exercise Research Center (PERC) at UC Irvine School of Medicine, on the design concepts that will suit the fitness abilities of a young recuperating population.

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