Thanks to fast-food diets and a preference for joysticks over jogging, kids today are getting fatter. Here in the UAE, the World Health Organisation estimates that more than 20 per cent of children are heading for obesity, a major risk factor for a number of chronic illnesses including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer. In fact, our kids could be the first in centuries to have a shorter life-span than their parents.
Lazy lifestyles, where good old-fashioned running around is shoved aside by telly and computer games, can shoulder a fair chunk of the blame for this shocking trend. Some parents reckon they would have to swing from the top of the Burj Dubai before their little addicts would tear their eyes away from a TV or computer screen, which is why In Motion’s concept of combining exercise with electronic games is so appealing. Known as ‘exergaming’, it’s a sort of ‘poacher-turned-gamekeeper’ way of getting those kids who stubbornly refuse to exercise anything other than their thumbs and eyeballs to work up a sweat.
In Motion’s founding partner Osama Al-Othman knows the score: it was being stuck in a sweltering Dubai summer with two bored and grumpy daughters that prompted him to hunt down something that would prise them off their bottoms and put smiles on their faces. He came across exergaming consoles on a trip to the United States and, after reading the grim child health figures in the Middle East, reckoned there was definitely a market in the UAE. ‘What better way to get kids into fitness than through the games they already like?,’ he says.
In Motion, set up in the Green Community in 2008, is moving to bigger and better premises in Stargate, Za’abeel Park, and Osama invites us along to try out the new equipment. I’m keen, but I’m no computer whizzkid (I think Chuckie Egg is cutting edge), but In Motion general manager Marc Tanas assures me my dunderhead computer brain won’t hinder my progress.
I begin with a bash at ‘dodgeball’, one of several games on the LightSpace Play Floor. After five minutes being chased by a mad, electronic light (which seems to bear me a personal grudge) I’m slightly out of puff, but definitely fancying my chances on the competitive skipping. For 20, extraordinarily long, seconds, I haul myself over the electronic rope before giving up in fear of doing myself serious injury. How kids can do this for hours while barely breaking sweat is a mystery to me.
Next up is T-wall. Remember ‘Simon’, the flashing musical game where you had to repeat the pattern by bashing away on the coloured lights? This is like a wall-mounted version, seemingly made for giants. Competing against 11-year-old Khalid, I try to whack the lights before they disappear, and it’s a race to see who can bop them all first. ‘This is brilliant fun,’ squeals Khalid, buoyed by victory. ‘All the games are excellent – I like playing everything.’
I’m exhausted, but surprised to see that I’ve been running, jumping and whacking for 15 minutes. ‘You don’t realise you’re exercising. You lose the sensation that you’re working out,’ says Marc. ‘Like many people,
I signed up to a gym, but it was only fun when I had a personal trainer to keep me motivated and stimulated. Here, you’re stimulated yourself. You’re having fun, sweating and burning calories.’
Still catching my breath, I politely decline Marc’s offer to pretend I’m Pacman, hook myself up and run around a virtual maze munching imaginary (and presumably fat-free) Pac-dots and, instead, suggest he shows us his moves on the i-Dance interactive dance mat. After a particularly high-energy routine that sees him spinning, kicking and punching the floor, Justin Timberlake-style, I can’t help but wonder if Marc enjoys his job just a little too much.
‘I’ve certainly lost weight since I started,’ he pants, ‘but In Motion is not only for kids. In fact, one of our aims is to promote family bonding – there’s nothing kids like better than parent-versus-child competitions.’ Quite. I turn to see an angelic-looking little girl wearing boxing gloves, attempting to beat the living daylights out of a Mike Tyson-esque CGI. ‘I could play and play on this all day,’ says nine-year-old Noor as she socks her opponent with a vicious right hook. ‘I’m not tired at all but I can feel my heart beating really fast.’
Skywall, a rotating climbing wall – a never-ending ascent going nowhere – is a surprise hit, as are the ‘exerbikes’, where PlayStation-addicted couch potatoes plug into their favourite games while pedalling away. ‘Before they’re onto the next level, they’ve done 20 minutes of cardio cycling,’ says Marc.
In Motion works closely with children with prosthetic limbs as well as kids from the Dubai Autism Centre. Marc says even doctors have been impressed by the concept’s effectiveness in getting reluctant youngsters to do their rehabilitation exercises. ‘The key is that it doesn’t feel like exercise or a chore. It feels like fun.'
Not all kids are soccer squad or swim team material, yet even those – or maybe particularly those – who shudder at the thought of PE are likely to fling themselves into these games with gusto. ‘You know in schools there are some kids who are fat, don’t like sport and they struggle. Here everyone’s equal. You’re not being graded. It attracts everyone – fit kids, unfit kids, fat kids, skinny kids,’ says Marc. ‘In Motion levels the playing field.’
In Motion works like a fitness club. Members can pay by the hour or take monthly or annual membership and can do their own thing or take a class. Contact 04 368 8747 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.in-motion-club.com for details.