XRKade: Denver Parks and Rec fights childhood obesity with... video games!

Kids like video games. They don't like stationary bikes and ellipitical trainers and those weight-lifting machines that make your thighs less flabby by having you open and close your legs like a Venus fly trap. In light of those facts, Denver's Athmar Recreation Center, 2680 West Mexico Avenue, has installed an XRKade -- which is a video-game arcade cleverly designed as an antidote to childhood obesity.

XRKade is the brainchild of Lenny Lowenstein and iTECH Fitness, the Denver-based company he founded in 2004. The idea? "One of our mantras is to make fitness fun," he says.

"Kids between eleven and fifteen, they look at a treadmill and they see pain.They don't understand it. It's boring. How do you motivate them to be active? You have to think how they think, and you have to use the technology they're using." Like, for example, the PlayStation 2.

At Athmar, there are two XRKades: a big one downstairs and a smaller, handicap-accessible one upstairs. The downstairs arcade includes nine 32-inch televisions, four stationary bikes and four Dance, Dance Revolution pads. The upstairs one has half as much equipment.

The bikes are not ordinary bikes. Instead, they're like giant video game controllers that work with PlayStation 2 games. Kids can pop in a game about say, ATV racing, hop on the bike and control the game's ATV with their bodies. The faster they pedal, the faster their ATV goes. They control the direction of the ATV with the bike's handlebars, and they can perform all same the tricks and stunts as if they were holding a controller.

"We've taken the controllers out of their hands and made it into active play," Lowenstein says. "It ingrains that culture of activity into them, and all of a sudden, they're working out." A-ha!

The XRKade at Athmar will be the first one at a Denver rec center. (Lowenstein says another, at Globeville Recreation Center, 4496 Grant Street, is on its way.) It will be open Monday through Friday from 3:30 to 7 p.m. to kids ages seven to fifteen. The grand opening is Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

Denver Parks and Rec spokeswoman Jill McGranahan says the XRKade is a way for the rec centers to "stay relevant... We're always looking at ways to make our rec centers more accessible and appealing to youth and getting core audiences in there."

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Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar