Losing weight at home, with the help of a video game

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    Paul Ballas has struggled with lifelong obesity. But using his Xbox fitness to work out at home, Ballas has dropped close to 60 pounds in five months.

    Paul Ballas is a child and adult psychiatrist and the founder of TIRO Enterprises LLC.

    Ballas has struggled with lifelong obesity. But using his Xbox fitness to work out at home, Ballas has dropped close to 60 pounds in five months. “This is me in 2009 in a t-shirt. You can see my face looks a lot different. My chest is much puffier and you can tell my arms are even doughier,” said Ballas, pointing to a picture on the shelf. “And that’s an XXL t-shirt; this is an L I’m wearing right now. Literally I haven’t worn an L since I was 13 years old.”

    The workouts have Ballas following an instructor on screen as he jumps, runs and stretches. “This is a very kind of new creature, which is what you’d imagine you’d get on a DVD, but with game elements all over the place,” said Ballas. “I would never watch a DVD and do a DVD fitness workout because its not talking back.”

    Throughout college Ballas would run and lift weights close to seven days a week, but with little to show for it. He says traditional workouts felt like a grind to him. “I always kind of saw it as a treatment for a problem I had,” said Ballas. “I saw it like, ‘Man if I wasn’t so heavy I wouldn’t have to work out this hard,'” he said. “And that mindset was not helpful but also made me kind of hate exercise after a while and is probably why I abandoned it.”

    After his college workout schedule petered out, Ballas started putting back on the pounds. Soon after getting married and having a baby, Ballas started noticing that climbing stairs was starting to become difficult. “I was seriously thinking about getting a consultation for bariatric surgery. It was getting that bad,” said Ballas. “I was starting to very seriously worry about my health and I really, really did not want to have a heart attack or stroke when my kids were ten,” he said. “And that was a real fear I had, so this was going to be my last shot. And it worked.”

    The Xbox fitness contains 40 high intensity workouts that track the player’s progress with stars and fitness points. Ballas says he is motivated to workout for these rewards, in addition to potentially beating his friend when he plays.

    “I spent my entire adult life focusing on the right thing, which is like what my heart rate is and my metabolic rate and how big my lift was – all these things that sounded like the right thing to focus on,” said Ballas. “But this is the sort of thing that gets people motivated. This, what they call autotelic activity, the activity that you do just because you like doing them,” he said. “So for me focusing on points and stars was much more effective than focusing on calories any day of the week. I have no idea how many calories I’ve burned this month. I know exactly how many fitness points I’ve achieved this month though.”

    Ballas says ultimately fitness video games could play a major role in curbing childhood obesity. “People play video games all the time. At least half of adults, 80 percent plus kids play video games routinely every day,” said Ballas. “And as a psychiatrist I know it’s easier to get the routine changed as opposed to changing the entire structure or add a brand new habit,” he said. “I proved it myself. I am literally in the best shape of my adult life, probably of my entire life.”

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