Raise your hand if you exercise on a regular basis. Now keep your hand up if you actually like it. Whether you exercise with joyful exuberance or drag yourself half-crying to the gym, the fact remains that only about half of us get the amount of exercise that we need each day to stay fit and healthy. If you love pushing your body into a sweat and burning those calories, good for you! But if you're not a fan, it seems there may be another way: virtual reality exercise.
What Is Virtual Reality Exercise?
Many of us know that we need to get fit, but it can be really hard to dredge up the motivation. But what if you could trick yourself into exercising? If you could exercise by accident? This is exactly what virtual reality exercise can do for you.
To over-simplify, virtual reality (VR) exercise is a type of video game. You use a VR system and headset, and hand-held devices to track your movement. The headset covers your eyes completely, immersing you in a different world. Whether you're slicing bright red and blue boxes with a lightsaber or dodging glowing shapes, VR has the unique ability to draw you into physical activity without you even realizing it. And honestly, it's pretty fun.
The Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise studies VR games and provides ratings on how many calories per minute they burn. Supernatural, a popular VR exercise program, burns 10-13 calories per minute: the same amount you'd burn on a vigorous bike ride. Except you don't have to leave your living room!
Does Virtual Reality Exercise Work?
You may be skeptical. Understandably. Can a video game really get you in shape? Some early research says it can. One 2019 study found that 12 weeks of VR rehabilitation had better results than the same amount of non-VR rehab in patients with Parkinson's disease. That's pretty impressive! But wait, there's more.
A small study from 2016 demonstrated children with cerebral palsy saw more improvements in muscle strength and balance when they used VR on a treadmill, compared to the same exercise without VR.
And a 2020 study review found that "VR exercise has the potential to exert a positive impact on an individual's physiological, psychological, and rehabilitative outcomes compared with traditional exercise." However, these researchers did say that more research is needed to make any confident claims about VR exercise effectiveness.
Different Types of Virtual Reality Exercise
When it comes to VR programs that will get your heart rate up, the options are endless. Whether you choose a game-like workout or attend a virtual fitness class, what you want is probably out there.
Virtual Reality Games
Many of these games started out as just that: games. Then people started realizing (when they had to wipe the sweat off their headsets) that they had unwittingly exercised. Now some people use them for working out. Here are some of the most popular options:
- Beat Saber: Slash through bright squares to the beat of a huge library of songs. ($29.99)
- Holoball: Play virtual racquetball. ($14.99)
- Holopoint: Shoot (with a bow and arrow) and fight through waves of targets. ($14.99)
- OhShape: Inspired by the Japanese game show, Hole in the Wall, you must contort your body get around oncoming obstacles. ($19.99)
- Thrill of the Fight: Practice your boxing skills. ($9.99)
Exercise With a Trainer
These options let you work with a virtual trainer, live trainer, or in a variety of virtual fitness classes.
- FitXR: Choose from a huge library of boxing, dance, or high-intensity training classes. ($9.99/mo)
- Liteboxer VR: Work alongside a live trainer with boxing and many other exercises. ($9.99/mo)
- Supernatural: Choose from over 500 workouts including yoga, pilates, and boxing. Also includes a game called Flow in which you try to destroy targets to the beat of a song. ($18.99/mo)
- VZfit: Partnered with Google Street View, work out in locations all over the world. You can pair it with your exercise equipment, or do the workouts without any equipment at all. ($9.99/mo)
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that healthy adults should get about two and a half hours of exercise per day. By "exercise" they mean you need to get your heart pumping. How fast? That depends. But in general you want to feel like you are working at a moderate to high intensity level. You can check the AHA's target heart rate chart to figure out your goal. Any of these virtual exercising options pump up your heart rate, so pick the one you like best, and have fun with it!
VR Exercise Breakdown: Pros, Cons, and Costs
The demand and options for VR headsets are growing. Some headsets are "tethered" which means they attach to a console (like a computer or PlayStation) with wires. Others are wireless. Some headsets work on their own, while others must be connected to a console.
|VR Headset Options|
Meta Quest 2 (previously known as Oculus)
|$350-$400||Works as a standalone (without plugging into any system) but can be plugged into your PC for certain games||Short battery life||Yes|
Display, controls, and processor better than Meta Quest 2
Has face and eye tracking for more realistic experience
Short battery life
Works with PS4 and PS5 video game consoles
Works with non-VR games and apps
Headset must be plugged into console during use
Superior controllers: tracks individual finger movements
Headset must be plugged into PC during use
Offers subscription to Viveport which gives you access to hundreds of games and programs
Doesn't come with controllers or console
Comfortable headset and controllers
Works with the SteamVR library of programs
|Uses a VR platform (Windows Mixed Reality) that is becoming outdated||Yes|
You may find it easier to work out without wires getting in your way, but for some, that's not a big bother. A VR headset can be a fairly big investment, so don't be afraid to take your time and try a few out at your local electronics store before you decide.
The Downside to Virtual Reality Workouts
Okay, so you got your VR headset, you put on your spandex, and you've started your high-tech workout. But wait a minute! You're only five minutes in and you feel like puking! Unfortunately, virtual reality sickness can hit anyone, even if you don't normally struggle with motion sickness.
Your body reacts to signals going to your brain from your eyes that don't match what your body is feeling. In other words, your body is onto you. They know what you're looking at isn't real, and sometimes it reacts with an upset stomach. This feeling is only temporary but still uncomfortable. VR companies are pouring research into this issue because they have a vested interest in no one ever getting sick from their product.
Until that issue gets solved, you might want to try VR exercise before you invest to make sure you're not one of the unlucky few who gets sick during a VR experience.
The only other issue some people complain about is that the headsets are big and heavy. Again, VR companies are constantly adjusting to feedback from customers (like you!) and are starting to develop lighter, more cushioned options.
Now you know the good, the bad, and the....sweaty? Whether you go for a cheaper model with a few inconveniences, or jump in with both feet and get a VR fit for a pro, virtual reality exercise can be a lot of fun. Enjoy whichever virtual world you choose and then bask in the glory of your workout win!