Helping people get fit with Xbox Kinect

Editor: Ryan DeJonghe responded to our request for Kinect stories in celebration of the technology's one-year anniversary. Would you like to get fit? He has a group of 1,400 using Xbox 360 and Kinect to do just that.

I’ve always been a fan of video games and technology. Anything that would marry the two would be icing on the cake. Starting out on the NES, I hooked up every accessory available, from Broderbund’s U-Force controller to the Miracle Piano Teaching System. So naturally, when Microsoft announced they were releasing a product that would be able to track your entire body, I was first in line.

Prior to the launch of Kinect for Xbox 360, I was already trying to get back into physical shape. I used to guide my habits and the Wii to get in shape. The Wii Fit was a great product for me, but seemed more of an introduction to exercise, versus a substitute for it. It's where I found my love for Yoga, so no complaints there. However, I couldn’t wait for the release of the Kinect. Every video I watched only made me hunger more.

One of the great benefits of SparkPeople is the ability to create groups, similar to Facebook. Knowing how powerful and amazing Kinect would be, I set out to start a fitness group called “Kinect to Spark”. I solicited the help of Tema Chipo, who has been an amazing motivator in other video game groups. At the launch of Kinect in November 2010, we had about eight members. From that point, we worked hard to drive the group's growth. And not just that, but growth while motivating members of the group.

When the Kinect launched, I quickly saw ways it would transform lives. Our members found amazing exercise in everything from games "Your Shape Fitness Evolved" to "Dance Central". Even the game that came bundled with the console, "Kinect Adventures", proved to be a fitness challenge in some ways.

Needless to say, Kinect sells itself, especially to those that are looking to become more active. There are days where I go to Best Buy just to watch people try out the Kinect on display. I love seeing the magical look in their eyes when first experiencing Kinect. The pattern is conistent: they try out Kinect for about 20 minutes, call someone over to watch them play and look on store shelves to buy one. It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn't used Kinect what it does and feels like. But once they’ve played it, the magic begins.

We certainly had the momentum rolling for the fitness group, coming off of the holiday season. However, in February, I suffered a Sudden Cardiac Arrest. My parents were in town visiting, and we started off the day playing a bit of Kinect. From there, we went out to eat and the next thing I remember was having my chest pounded on. Seventy-two shocks and a coma later, I woke up feeling like a train hit me. To this day, doctors don’t know what caused my Cardiac Arrest. My heart was clean of blockages, but there was some kind of electrical storm that dropped me instantly.

While this momentarily set me back, both in exercise and weight loss, I am thankful for the experience. While recovering, I became addicted to another technology called OnLive -- a streaming video game service. You can think of it as Netflix streaming, but for video games. I got involved in the community and even started reaching out to developers and publishers about putting their games onto the service.

Thanks to the relationships made from OnLive, I then connected to people working on Kinect games. Looking to reignite my Kinect team, I started up another site, called Kinect Reviews and Interviews. Since September, I have been reviewing games, conducting interviews and hosting contests on the site -- all for the purpose of driving people to our Kinect fitness group.

Today the Kinect fitness group is thriving. Sure, there is always room for improvement, but we have come a long way. We currently have a weight loss contest with some nice prizes the members contributed. We also have a virtual walk across the country, Xbox Live, Facebook group, another contest to win "Dance Central 2", and many other things to keep each other active and motivated.

So while we may hit a few snags in the road, such as losing members or PR companies not responding the way I want, there are always rebounds, such as making a new video game industry contact or seeing a member reach a healthy milestone. These member milestones are actually the reasons I keep driving on. We’ve had members that have lost over 100 pounds-playing video games. So while the world of video games may be full of the Call of Duties, I can still find solace in the success of the Kinect for Xbox 360.

Ryan DeJonghe is a writer and founder of fitness group "Kinect to Spark".

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