Never before have there been higher rates of Americans who are in need of an effective weight loss solution. With a striking 2/3 of the adult population now falling under the category of overweight or obese and 1/3 of children age 6-19, there will only be a continued demand for weight loss solutions in the coming years. The effects of this widespread epidemic cannot be overestimated: carrying excess weight increases risks of every chronic disease from heart disease to stroke and some types of cancers. Annually, the health care costs relating to obesity run into the hundreds of billions, increase work absenteeism, and create a huge drain on our health care systems.
To reverse this trend in America, an entire industry has sprung up to offer solutions ranging from crash diets and detoxes to a host of exercise options like group classes, lifting programs, cardio classes, and personal training. And in recent years, a virtual reality option designed to help participants shed the pounds. If you thought you’d tried everything under the sun, this virtual option might be one to consider—the natural progression for weight loss options in a technology-driven world.
While over 50 million Americans belong to some type of traditional brick and mortar health club or gym, not all are achieving the desired results that led them there in the first place. People join gyms largely to lose weight, but the primary reasons causing them to quit going are convenience, cost, location, and a lack of actually using the gym. This is where an option like a virtual reality weight-loss program can provide a much-needed solution.
A recent study examined two weight-loss program options, one in a more traditional health club setting and the other offered through a virtual reality to examine which would provide better results. Though as unorthodox as a virtual reality weight loss program may seem, researchers at Indiana University found that virtual reality programs can teach people activities they can carry over into their real lives.
As stated by assistant professor of kinesiology, Jeanne Johnson, “Many report being uncomfortable and intimidated by traditional gym settings, a roadblock that can prevent them from accomplishing their weight loss goals or even attending the gym. By attending a simulated fitness club instead, Johnson explained that “through visualization and education, they could try activities that they had not tried before.”
This new angle also prevents a solution to the often-reported reasons people quit traditional health clubs—a lack of convenience and being too busy. Participants can interact from the comfort of their own homes in the computer-simulated environment, meaning people who would normally resist a traditional gym are given an alternate option that might be more attuned to their lifestyles. As a result, participants “had more confidence in their ability to perform physical activity in difficult situations, such as bad weather, vacations, and low-energy days,” said Johnson.
The study examined the progress over the course of 12 weeks where members of both a traditional health club weight loss program, and a virtual reality one, spent a minimum of four hours a week attending their respective meetings. Participants in the virtual-reality program used the platform second life. The content for both virtual and in-person included courses of nutrition, physical activity, and how to adapt healthy habits.
The results of the study showed that while all participants lost around an average of close to 10 pounds, whether in the brick-and-mortal health club or the virtual one, the striking difference between the two groups was in their behavior. Health club participants might have seen the number on the scale drop, but didn’t report any changes in their healthy eating habits, physical activity, or sleep patterns. Their counterparts reported that their virtual reality experience had positively influenced their behaviors in all these areas (except for increasing their hours of sleep).
Virtual reality offers an innovative new option for combating obesity and helping Americans achieve weight loss in this day and age, when traditional gyms alone are not convenient options for everyone. With a growing problem of overweight and obese Americans, we need all of the invention new situations that we can get, and virtual reality may just be the way of the future.
As summarized by Johnson, “the virtual world program was at least as beneficial as the face-to-face program ad in some ways, more effective.”
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