Can a virtual life be good for your health? That’s the question answered by the folks running the Avatar Fitness Club at the Virtual State Fair on Morrill. By the way, the answer is “yes!”
Research at the University of Kansas, funded by the National Institutes of Health, indicates that a weight loss management program using a Second Life® avatar can be as effective or even more so than attendance at a physical world clinic. This venue offers a social environment for changing habits and maintaining weight loss through regular exercise and nutrition education. The Avatar Fitness Club, while not affiliated with the University of Kansas, was inspired by their research.
The club is part of a four-region estate owned and operated by the National eXtension Initiative, a project of Cooperative Extension (extension.org). The Cooperative Extension is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Level Act, 1914-2014, which established the Cooperative Extension Service, a state-by-state national network of educators who extend university-based research and knowledge to the people. “We have been providing educational programming in SL since 2008. The club was designed both as a way to support Cooperative Extension programming on diet and wellness, and to attract more visitors to all of eXtensions content in SL,” said LuAnn Phillips (aka Thynka Little), eXtension Initiative Virtual Worlds Specialist/Social Media Consultant and manager of the club.
The Avatar Fitness Club is available 24/7 with live programs, like the Weight Loss Support Group, offered 9 months of the year with a break during the summer months. Other programs offered are Spin Cycling 101, Resistance Training 101, themed/Role Play workout sessions, regular aerobics classes, dietary and exercise information sessions, fitness quiz nights and movie nights. Phillips reports that the club was opened in September 2013, has been visited over 60,000 times, and boasts a membership of over 1000 members.
On staff at the club are Leia Kedem (aka Leia Kedem), a registered dietitian from the University of Illinois Extension (https://www.facebook.com/ModerationMaven), and Jason Jarred (aka Jaye Jeffries) a Personal Trainer & Exercise Physiologist, who offers free one-on-one consultations. Kadem said of the support group, “These days, people get health information through all sorts of media – TV, magazines, the Internet, and so on. The problem is, much of it is inaccurate. Through our support group, we’ve been able to provide sound, science-based advice to gym-goers and correct some of the misconceptions.” Jarred has featured a post on his blog (http://skeptifit.com/2013/09/21/second-life-virtual-fitness-centres-whats-it-all-about), where he speaks to the virtual experience saying, “What makes this different to a real gym? There’s no cost, it’s far more accessible, and it acts as an introduction for people who might be too nervous or self-conscious to step foot into gym or fitness center.”
A member of the club, Rachael Auggers, while walking on a treadmill, commented on the benefits she’s realized in real life from participation in the club, “I have managed to lose 10 lbs. since joining the gym and I feel wonderful. I’d recommend it to people with no hesitation.” Another member, Kethri Resident, a client of Jarred, gave her perspective, “I would say the Avatar Fitness Club has had a couple of positive RL influences. It might sound silly but I find going to the club and watching my avatar on a treadmill for a while can really get me in the mood for a good RL workout. Also, I find it fun and helpful to talk with people from other cultures and get their perspective on health and fitness.”
In closing, Phillips offered, “eXtension in SL is anchored by the Virtual State Fair on Morrill. The content on the four Morrill regions is always changing. For more information, visit http://www.extension.org/category/3d.
Written by Sherrie Shepherd
Photographs by Angeli Optera