Virtual Worlds like Second Life can help you lose weight

People around the world are living parallel lives in virtual worlds like Second Life.

Up to now, most of the stories related to these free 3D virtual worlds where users can socialize, connect, rear and create; were more about extreme addictions, where people turned careless to the real world and as a result paid a heavy price in real world; but things are changing now.

Some of the recent studies are bringing to fore some of the useful things happening to people living virtual lives.

Here’s an interesting little study. Researchers at the University of Indiana conducted a weight loss study over a period of twelve weeks. The study involved two groups – One, group went to a traditional fitness center; and the second group received their workout training and advice at a virtual gym through Second Life.

The study found that, while participants in both groups lost about the same amount of weight, the group that received their training through Second Life actually made more changes to their habits (something which is often called Lifestyle changes in weight loss circles).

To elaborate, although the participants in each group lost a comparable amount of weight — on average almost 10 pounds — and saw similar decreases in body mass index and body fat; the major differences between the two groups involved behaviors.

The study found that while the participants in the face-to-face group reported no significant changes in any of the behaviors evaluated — like healthy eating, physical activity and sleeping habits; those who received the assistance via virtual world reported positive changes in all the healthy eating and physical activity measures except the number of hours they slept. Sleeping less can be understood; as living virtual lives requires sitting in front of a PC for long hours.

One of the reasons for the success of virtual medium in bringing positive changes may itself be “the virtual nature of interaction”; where people interact with each other via virtual avatars. An avatar a couple of pounds less than the previous one can be a big boost for the participants; without undergoing the stress of real life staring.

It’ll be interesting to see, how the results of the study apply in Long term. That’s does the group that got virtual assistance; manages to keep losing weight or keeps lost weight at bay even after one year of the study. But overall, the study has given support to some of the recent studies that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were more likely to follow a fitness program using the Nintendo Wii than a traditional fitness program OR motion controllers like those in the Wii or an XBox with a Kinect installed, encourage people to move a bit than a conventional fitness plan.