Virtual Partners Can Help Promote Exercise

Posted Tue, 05/24/2011 - 3:42pm by Fred Lee

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The explosion in obesity has been a significant public health problem the world over. Just as troubling, however, is the elusive search to understand what exactly is behind this surge in body weight. While the obvious candidates are excessive consumption of calories and lack of exercise, health care experts are quick to point out that these two factors alone are not an adequate reason for the current health crisis.

Nonetheless, it goes without saying that exercise is good for you, and in conjunction with a healthy diet, is perhaps the most effective and straightforward way to maintain a healthy body weight. These two simple goals, however, can present their own set of challenges, some of which are seemingly insurmountable such that they never get accomplished. This is especially true for exercising.

Let's face it. We live in a busy world, and the demands of work, family, and time for ourselves make it difficult to find the wherewithal to get enough exercise. With this in mind, health care professionals encourage people to do whatever it takes to find a way to be active. One way to accomplish this is to find a group or an exercise partner who will encourage or inspire you to exercise, but what happens when you cannot find someone to exercise with?

Fear not. New research has found that in the absence of an actual person, you can improve your chances of being active by having a virtual exercise partner. In the study in question, scientists sought to better understand what is known as the Kohler effect, which describes how players who might be considered less skilled in their abilities can perform at a higher level in the presence of a group than if they were alone.

What they found was that exercising with a virtual partner act to help motivate people to exercise, sometimes even more so than an real person. In an example given in the study, subjects participated in a virtual exercise that strengthened their abdominal muscles. The presence of a virtual partner was included whereby the partner was manipulated in a way that its performance was higher than the actual person.

In the presence of this virtual partner, study subjects displayed greater persistence, exercising for a 24% greater duration when compared to subjects who exercised without a virtual partner. The findings, published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, make sense in light of the fact that a lack of motivation is cited as the hardest thing for people to overcome. Furthermore, it can be a challenge for people to find the ideal partner, whereby someone who is too skilled can be discouraging, while an inferior partner can lead to boredom. On the other hand, a virtual partner can be designed to be a closer match while also removing some of the social anxieties of exercising in public.

The data supports the idea that exercise, in conjunction with a healthy diet, is beneficial for our health, and it behooves us to be more active and to find ways to encourage this. For more information about the importance of exercise, visit the website for the American Heart Association.

This post was included in the latest Carnival of Weight Loss, Health and Fitness.

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