Is Virtual Reality Exercise a Real Workout?

person using VR headset

For decades, playing video games was seen as a sedentary activity incompatible with good physical fitness and well-being. But, let’s quickly travel back to 2007—the iPhone made its debut, Rihanna’s “Umbrella” was blasting on the radio, and one video game was taking over the world. You could see people ecstatically jumping on a plastic board with a controller in their hands, hitting invisible boxing opponents, and sweating their backs off in front of their screens. In that year, people started working out with Wii Fit.

Now, only 15 years later, we see an uproaring technological advancement that took us far away from just playing fun, full-body engaging games. We are now able to transport ourselves into otherworldly experiences while working on our physiques. Using virtual reality and video games to get people to move around more is a new way to get fit, and it’s gaining massive popularity.

Virtual Reality Exercise: How Did We Get There?

Aaron Stanton is the founder and director of the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise in San Francisco. It is an independent research and rating organization that looks at how virtual and augmented reality affects health, started working on bringing a VR revolution to fitness.

Driven by prejudice that video games equal a sedentary style of life, Stanton, and his team went through different thorough research that ultimately showed excellent results within examinees. And what’s most important, people didn’t even realize how much actual work they put into their workouts. Why so? Because immersion takes them away from just doing dull exercises and engages them in refreshing sensory experiences.

VR fitness is a cutting-edge, immersive VR technology that can be used to create a whole new workout environment anywhere in the world. With these games, you wear headsets that block out light from the real world and put you right in the middle of a virtual environment where you can play shooter games, boxing, bowling, or even mental challenges.

With games that use VR as a way to exercise, once you put on the headset and grab the hand-held devices that react with the gaming platform, you’re ready to wing, kick, punch, or slice your way into fun. It is an engaging workout that helps you get over boredom and burn more calories than doing traditional workouts.

When you use tools for VR fitness, your body is the controller. In traditional games, you sit and watch your avatar move through space on a screen. On the other hand, VR games move your body in the way you want your avatar to move. The motions create burning sensations, yet they do not register as exercise right away. And that’s where fitness comes in.

Breaking a Sweat in Virtual Reality 

Stanton formed the VR Institute and reached out to kinesiology experts at San Francisco State University to assist in validating his proposal. Jimmy Bagley, an associate professor of kinesiology at SFSU, was among several who started looking into whether VR might be utilized for exercise.

They placed participants inside VR systems and turned on games using VO2 max testing equipment, a face mask, and a tube system athletes often wear when running or riding to gauge their physical endurance while training at the highest level. According to Bagley, the SFSU researchers discovered that people involved in particular types of virtual reality exercise participated in “moderate to intense intensity” workouts. 

“These games weren’t particularly designed for fitness initially,” Bagley says, but over time, games like Beat Saber and Supernatural have established a reputation as calorie-burners that many people also find pretty entertaining and engaging.

Staying Motivated

This fitness novelty became extremely popular during the COVID-19 worldwide lockdown periods, during which people started seeking at-home solutions for their workout needs. Luckily, the market already had its lucky charms, such as Oculus Quest, and the positive response was not lacking. 

Extra fun and engaging games have gained massive popularity. Such is already mentioned in Beat Saber, a game in which you slice the beats with a pair of sabers as they fly at you using your legs. Another mentioned example, Supernatural, takes you into filmic locations and has you swinging bats to knock out obstacles as they approach you while crouching and shifting side to side.

Different factors make these games addicting, allowing people to stay motivated throughout their fitness journey. Not only are you able to climb your way up the leaderboards, but you are also able to exercise with your friends who can join your virtual space. This makes fitness even more fun and engaging and, as such, creates space for more social interactions in times when that was unimaginable. 

This is positive since it indicates that the user is so involved in the game that they are unaware of how hard they are working. In theory, this implies they can remain with it longer and play more, resulting in better fitness benefits.

This is one of the reasons why virtual reality exercise can be such a powerful method to get your workout done. Many users claim they don’t feel like they’re working out at all but instead simply playing a game or catching up with loved ones who may be thousands of kilometers away.

The Future of VR Fitness

If you are following the advancements in VR technologies, you’ve probably heard that Oculus was on the brink of making the technology mainstream. So, what’s changed now? That’s a simple answer: accessibility.

Until recently, the most basic consoles were just plastic or cardboard holsters that held a smartphone to your head. You couldn’t really do anything with them. Even today, high-end goggles need the use of wires to keep you connected to an expensive gaming PC.

But, head-mounted devices such as Quest 2, wireless, and pretty much affordable solutions come into play with different games that engage you in fun and demanding workouts. 

Regardless of the fact that many people are yet to be met with it, VR fitness is here, and we predict that goggles will soon be as prevalent as treadmills. While it started out as a curiosity, it is now capable of functioning as the focal point of your home gym. It is less expensive, takes up less space, and rewards you with game-like components and frequent updates.

Some days, we might not feel like working out, but how many times during the week do you feel like you want to escape your own reality? VR fitness gives you the best of both worlds. You can overcome your four walls and stale routines while at the same time keeping your body active and making space for healthier thoughts and overall well-being.