Tweaking avatar real motivator

Fitness professional Tania Grave (left) and Ellie Constantine discuss health and fitness options.
Fitness professional Tania Grave (left) and Ellie Constantine discuss health and fitness options.
Avatars allow people to see what effect exercise will have on their bodies.
Avatars allow people to see what effect exercise will have on their bodies.
Photo by Jane Dawber.
Photo by Jane Dawber.
Photo by Jane Dawber.
Photo by Jane Dawber.
Photo by Jane Dawber.
Photo by Jane Dawber.

Winter is never the best time to embark on a new exercise regime, but with a goal in mind, Ellie Constantine recently started pounding the pavement. In the first of a series of articles on fitness innovations and trends, she took the opportunity to visit a Dunedin gym and take a peek at a healthier her.

Height: 169cm, weight: 71kg, body mass index: 25.2.

Throw those figures into a computer program, along with my family's health history and lifestyle and wham, this 24-year-old has a health age of 30.

I recently set a goal of running or walking five times a week - even in the depths of a Dunedin winter - and have tried to cut back on the consumption of wine and chocolate.

While the cheapskate in me means I would rather rely on old-fashioned motivation than fork out for a weekly gym membership fee or personal trainer, I was still interested in testing out Configure Express' latest health assessment tool.

The exclusive software package - Visual Transformation Software - was what produced the number 30 for me.

I was providing data for the women-only gym's new transformation program and managed to smile through being weighed and told what percentage of my body was fat, but got stuck on that number.

Fitness professional Tania Grave told me that was normal.

The women whose data she had put into the program were often shocked to learn what their health age was and got into an emotional state when they saw an older figure.

The other part which struck them was learning of their health risks, such as what chance a person had of getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes or having a stroke, which could be "alarming".

The transformation program was not designed to scare people, but to motivate them to set self-improvement goals and become healthier through achieving them.

It had only been in place for about two months but had already received great feedback about its impact on users.

One of the biggest motivators I got from the session, other than the desire to get my health age down, was to see a preview of what my body could look like.

A quick selection of body-type, hairdo and skin-tone, and my 3-D avatar was staring back at me.

Mrs Grave then adjusted settings for my goals and expected activity and the avatar changed shape.

"It's pretty powerful. We tend to be visual creatures," she said.

More importantly, the program told me how long it would take for me to achieve a goal. The more exercise done and nutritional support received, the quicker.

While she admitted the amount I wanted to lose was not massive, and my health risks were all low, for obese people wanting, or needing, to lose up to half their body weight, the program was incredibly motivational.

Overall, the program was a great way to get an educated health assessment and set achievable targets, Mrs Grave said.

"It comes up with recommended solutions based on time, budget and need."



What is it?
• A software package designed to educate and motivate people towards a healthy lifestyle change.

What does it do?
• The 3-D image technology shows how physique can be changed with nutrition and exercise through a virtual body transformation.

• It also carries out a health-risk assessment for diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease.

How does it work?
• By combining information about your body, lifestyle, family history and exercise habits the program will: calculate your health age compared to your actual age and goal age; produce a 3-D image of you now, and what you could look like lighter; plus project health effects and physical consequences of doing regular exercise, combined with a healthy diet.

What is the science behind it?
• The outcomes are based on the Framingham Study, Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research, American Medical Association, American Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association, which say exercising for 20 minutes more than four times a week will lower risks for a range of diseases and medical events.

What next?
• A Configure Express staff member will inform you of what changes you need to make in your life to achieve your goals and how long you can expect to take to succeed.

• The program includes regular follow-ups to track the changes happening to your body and health.



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