Last Updated on June 30, 2020

The Future of Virtual Reality and Fitness

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified gaming as an addiction. Some evidence shows this addiction may be responsible for triggering or contributing to the obesity epidemic. But fast forward to the future, and the dopamine-triggering effects that make gaming so addictive might just be the pathway to creating a fitter world.

virtual reality fitnessA 2011 study revealed that game playing might be linked to childhood obesity, after noting that teens tended to eat more while playing games. However, studies overall have shown mixed results, leaving the issue inconclusive. But one thing is certain: traditional video gaming hasn’t exactly encouraged to a fit or active lifestyle.

Some countries have addressed the gaming addiction issue by putting limitations on game time, while others are still exploring ways to combat the problem. But just when we thought we had gaming addiction figured out, virtual reality (VR) entered the picture.

VR provides a new form of escapism that taps into a completely immersive experience, giving players the ability to get lost in another exciting world. Despite the statistics that suggest it might be a dangerous addiction and the still forming body of research, VR is quickly becoming the next big thing in the fitness landscape.

Fitness is big business, and so is VR

Last year, VR was hot among investors, and the VR market saw $3 billion invested into this fast-growing technology. The market has been traditionally aimed at men, with women showing little interest in VR as entertainment. But an EY VR Fitness study showed that women are much more interested in the prospect of using VR for fitness, opening a whole new world of opportunity within the market.

VR is also opening new doors within the wellness industry, giving people a fun new way to work out that actually gets them excited. VR fitness games aside, here are a few more applications on the VR horizon.

Virtual reality fitness centers

Black Box VR debuted at CES 2018. The company is creating a boutique VR fitness experience that is, well, out of this world. Men’s Health described this VR gym as “a sensory experience as well as a workout, which is what people are going to love.” This technology, if applied to the fitness world and health clubs, could one day overtake traditional gyms, according to one company executive.

Virtual reality to beat obesity

VR is effective at getting people moving and for many, it can make that dreaded exercise session more enjoyable. But research has also suggested that VR may be beneficial for fighting addictions, including those that lead to obesity. By immersing players in a virtual bar or party where they’ll face triggers, they will be challenged to fight and overcome their cravings. The research suggests that the coping methods they learn within the game could translate to real-world applications that prevent relapses.

Benefits of VR Fitness

It’s no surprise people get bored with their workouts. The gym can sometimes feel devoid of life, leaving you feeling lethargic and ready to head home before you’ve even completed you first rep. But VR is changing that with an array of elements that make working out fun. Here are some benefits of VR fitness.

You can learn proper form

In-game instruction can alert you if your form is off to ensure that your moves are safe. If games are equipped with this feature, as the Black Box VR system is, it’s like having a virtual personal trainer. Whether you need to work on your speed, coordination or individual movements while performing a routine, VR systems may be able to help ensure that you stay injury-free.

Visuals can push you harder

Humans are storytellers by nature. VR fitness games create a narrative that gives you a starting and ending point, encouraging you to keep going to reach your goals. Replete with stunning visuals that create a compelling environment, VR can be akin to enjoying the great outdoors from the comfort of your headset. One mountain climbing game, for instance, gives you the sense of being up high, driving gamers to hold on longer to avoid a virtual fall.

Immersive audio gets you moving

In the real world, sound guides us to move through our days. A buzzing bee near your head may cause you to swat or jump out of the way. In an immersive environment, the sounds around you can help give you a sense of everything from height to dangers within that little world.

New dimensions keep you on your toes

VR is still growing, and 4D technology is giving people the ultimate experience behind their headsets. Merrel’s Trailscape virtual hike succeeded in making users feel like they were actually experiencing the hike—complete with all the anxiety and fear of the treacherous drop below them. A movable soundstage that utilized 4D effects was paired with the images of a rickety bridge within the headset to create a very “real” experience. 4D mechanisms aren’t yet available in home units, but they may be down the road.

Does it work?

We’re sure every skeptical mind must be wondering VR fitness is worth it. We’re still awaiting a major VR fitness study, but for now, anecdotal evidence is giving us an initial glimpse into VR’s effectiveness for weight loss. One gamer and writer based in California lost more than 50 pounds in 5 months using SoundBoxing VR. A gamer playing VirZoom virtually cycled his way to lose more than 50 pounds. Another man lost 10 pounds in a week by increasing his activity levels within Skyrim VR. And one former competitive power lifter who had lost his edge shared that he got back in shape in just 50 days of playing VR fitness games.

In this current iteration of video gaming, the immersive experience that VR wraps us in can be really compelling. But along with potential risks like tripping on wires, or eyestrain, some people have actually died from their addiction. How? By completely ignoring the real world—including the need for food, sleep or movement. While long-term effects of immersive VR are yet unknown, scientists are exploring this emerging technology for both its benefits and drawbacks.

VR used to just be the sci-fi of the past. But today, it’s looking a whole lot like our future. As science improves our understanding of how our brains interact with the virtual world, and the technology continues to improve, VR might just become the key to a fitter, healthier tomorrow.

Cory is a veteran health industry writer and content creator. His work has been featured in major publications such as MyFitnessPal, Healthy Living, and Low Carb Fanatics. His health industry writing career spans over nearly two decades.

In his free time, Cory enjoys snowboarding, fictional writing, and online chess.