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'Zone' aims to turn video gamers into fitness buffs

"Get off the couch and into The Zone."

That's the battle cry for a new Perham business that promotes fitness--with the high tech fun of video gaming. "Play hard, burn calories and have fun" is another motto that describes the latest healthy lifestyle innovation.

Combining gaming with exercise is a sure-fire way to get youth to do what's good for them, said owner Al Braaten, adding that while the "Xrcade" equipment is geared for the age 10-20 crowd, "it's not totally for kids."

In fact, Braaten, a retired North Dakota highway department manager, has tried a number of the games himself.

"It's a lot more fun than your average exercise equipment," said Braaten, a year-round Rose Lake resident.

Who would imagine that video gaming would be a way to fight childhood obesity--but that is the intent, said Braaten.

To fully understand the video exercise and "exer-gaming" combination, you almost need to see it for yourself.

---The exercise bikes look like the standard fitness club units, but instead, riders pedal through obstacle courses with scenic backdrops.

---Standard treadmills become a video game-like challenge.

---Virtual dodgeball, a "lifesize" version of air hockey and electronic kick-boxing games are included in five rooms of equipment.

---"Dance Dance Revolution" equipment is also available.

---Skateboard-snowboard stations simulate breakneck races down mountain slopes.

For adults less interested in the bells, whistles and games, "The Zone" also has traditional exercise treadmills and ellipticals.

Perham's "Zone" is among the first facilities in the state to install some of the equipment, noted Braaten. And, it is literally the first "stand alone" Xrcade in the state. The only other Xrcade is in the St. Paul metro area, and is within a community center.

Braaten is also a regional distributor for Xrcade, which will enable him to sell equipment elsewhere--and use Perham's "Zone" as a showcase for customers.

Located in the former "Artful Obsessions" store on 3rd Ave., the building's remodeling bears no resemblance to the former retail store. The orange and black color scheme and contemporary signage is loud and flashy.

Though exercise is the main product at "The Zone," the only fixture in the facility that resembles a traditional "gym" are the rows of lockers--and even those are an intense orange. There are also changing rooms.

"The Zone" is a family business for Al and his wife Kathy--a career nurse who is actually more of a fitness enthusiast than Al.

The couple's daughter and son-in-law Jill and Matt Thomason will be involved, as well as the Braatens' son David and grandson, Zach.

Opening day will be May 19. Monthly membership "pre-sales" will be offered May 17, from 10 to 4 p.m. Monthly memberships are as low as $29.95.

An open house in conjunction with the Perham Area Chamber of Commerce will be held May 23.

The official "grand opening" event is June 6.

Hours are scheduled as 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

For more information on "The Zone," call 346-2626.