How VR can help you get fit with the power of fun
Often times going to the gym feels like a chore, and not just because of the physical effort, but because running on a treadmill in a small, enclosed space while staring at a gray wall is the definition of boring. Sure, you can listen to music, audio books or podcasts while you exercise, but if you lack motivation they are just a temporary distraction. This is where virtual reality comes in – it can allow you to run in virtual forests, dodge virtual bullets, give you more tangible goals to strive toward and bring out your sense of competitiveness.
You may remember how the Nintendo Wii and its motion controls kicked off a technological fitness craze back in the day, but VR takes it to the next level thanks to more immersive environments and more accurate head and body tracking.
You may also be familiar with a story we covered back in 2017, in which overweight gamer Job Stauffer credited an impressive weight loss of 22 kilograms to playing his favorite VR game, Soundboxing, for 5 months. Now, after trying it for myself, I understand how VR can be that proverbial spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down when it comes to exercise.
I’ve always struggled with having a fitness routine because I find gym environments rather off-putting. Having a lot of social activities and hobbies also means it’s hard to block off regular evening sessions for the gym or organized sports. I prefer to exercise at home on my own time, but even then the repetitive movements in front of the wall or the TV are still a drag.
VR helps with the psychological as well as physical
When I started playing games like Beat Saber and Superhot VR, I was really surprised at just how physically intense they were. The game graphics and progressive difficulty keep things fun and before I knew it, hours had passed by and I had worked up quite a sweat. It doesn’t necessarily work for every part of the body so it’s more of a supplement to ‘normal’ exercise than a replacement, but thanks to VR I’m definitely more active at home than I used to be. And since it’s also playing games at the same time, I’m more likely to go through it with a smile rather than a grimace.
This is backed up by academic research, that shows that the “rating of perceived exertion”, or amount of effort the people thought they put out, was lower than the actual output. This means that thanks to the fun of the game environment, you’re actually exercising more than you notice while playing VR games.
For some people, having the right company can be a big motivational factor when it comes to getting fit. Your favorite tennis partner or other sports buddy move abroad and now you can’t work out together anymore? Many VR sports can be played online with friends and social spaces in VR often integrate some simple sports games like a table tennis equivalent.
Online communities of enthusiasts are sharing knowledge, tips and encouragement to help each other realize fitness goals with the help of VR. For example, a Reddit user created custom routine including multiple games and charted his weight loss.
Hygiene is a factor you should consider – there are covers you can place on your headset to protect it from sweat. But if VR manufacturers want to get more serious about fitness equipment, headsets and controllers should become lighter, more ergonomic and wireless. The industry is already going in this direction, and setups such as the Oculus Quest, which doesn’t need a connected PC or external tracking sensors, will also make VR exercise more accessible and convenient.
For those who balk at the idea of being immersed in a totally virtual world, AR can also offer a solution. While most people are still only used to using AR through their smartphone camera, the development of advanced AR goggles along the lines of the Magic Leap One, or upcoming headsets from Apple and Huawei, could allow the same kind of virtual fun to be added to exercise while still being fully aware of your real surroundings.