It really does take time to make all these little tiny shifts in your life that culminate in a healthier way of living.”

Jesse Fox, an assistant professor of communications at Ohio State University, is using technology to give people a powerful incentive to exercise. Her avatars, or “virtual humans,” show people what a healthier, more fit version of themselves can look like. When she was a graduate student working at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, Dr. Fox found that these doppelgängers were effective at modifying the behavior of their human counterparts. As participants in her experiments exercised, they watched their avatars lose weight and get in shape. When they cut back on exercise, their virtual “you” gained weight back. The study found that subjects with avatars exercised forty minutes more over the next twenty-four hours, compared to the control group. The avatars also influenced the way people eat, Fox found.

There is other technology available that is somewhat less futuristic, but also very helpful. All sorts of new devices can track your activity levels and measure just how hard you are working. I visited a friend in her office recently, and I was really taken by how great she looks. I said so, and she reached into her sweater and pulled out something that looked like a thumb drive for a computer. It was actually her Fitbit, which is essentially a pedometer on steroids. A little over two inches tall, and barely more than a half-inch thick, the clip-shaped Fitbit weighs less than half an ounce and costs about $100. You can carry it with you everywhere to measure how far you walk, how many stairs you climb, and how many calories you burn during the course of a day. When you synch the monitor with your other electronic devices, you can also get workout advice and plans from trainers and athletes.

Tools like this are coming on the market every day. Nike has its own device, called the Nike+ FuelBand, to keep track of your activity. Like the Fitbit, the bracelet tracks every step you take and every calorie you burn. It also lets you set activity goals and shows your progress throughout the day. “Tools like Fitbit and FuelBand make people more aware, and if that's the goal, then it's doing its job,” says Josh. “If I look at my Fitbit or my FuelBand and I see that my points or my steps are considerably lower than they should be, I may go for a small run just to get those points up. Once again, that goes back to what? Moving more.”

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