We had a great podcast with Dr. Jimmy Bagley, a researcher in this study. Check it out here!
High-end virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive made it to the market last year, introducing endless possibilities for immersive consumer multimedia experiences. While gaming and entertainment have been dominating the industry, virtual reality fitness with real results is starting to emerge as a promising field. This is a step up from the augmented-reality fitness model from last year, such as the Pokemon Go when it enticed many users to sneak in extra steps.
New virtual reality fitness companies are now targeting consumers who consider traditional fitness activities like going to the gym “too tedious.” Instead, “fit-gamers” are provided with fun and interactive environments where they get their heart rate up while barely noticing the time passing. There is a plethora of options for even the early adopters, such as practicing archery, boxing, alien-fighting, and even participating in bar fights. While the scenery is only simulated, movements like dodging, squatting, jumping, punching, etc. are real; the player’s agility and fitness will determine how far they can go and how much they win.
One reason why researchers believe in virtual reality as a fitness tool is because of its ability to reward users in real-time. Blackbox VR, a virtual reality gym start up, wrote on their website: “You are rewarded immediately for your virtual reality gym fitness performance instead of in the distant future like with traditional fitness routines. That’s how habits are created.” The new virtual gyms are inherently different from the pain-now, gain-later model of regular workouts where people grunt through push-ups hoping to be fitter, toner, and/or thinner at some vague point in the future. There is even a website dedicated to researching these video games and their workout intensity compared to common activities like walking, running, elliptical, tennis, or swimming. This initiative by researchers at San Francisco State looks to combat childhood inactivity by finding a compromise between playing and exercising.
You are rewarded immediately for your virtual reality gym fitness performance instead of in the distant future like with traditional fitness routines. That’s how habits are created.
Space-Efficient Office Gyms
A promising application of virtual reality fitness is the ability to turn a small conference room into a virtual gym or boxing arena where employees can exercise. Some games require no more than a headset and enough space for the user to twist, turn, punch, and kick without hitting surrounding furniture. However, employers should consider their demographic carefully, as some employees might not be interested in participating out of concerns on how they may look or an aversion to video games.
A Long Way To Mass Adoption
While some applications only require the virtual reality headset to operate, some models require special computers and cardio machines - none of which is particularly cheap. Special computers can get up to $1,500, and even businesses will have to think twice about the $12,000 price tags of a virtual reality-assisted machine like the Holofit system from the French company Holodia. Regardless, the cost for headsets and other technologies will almost in all cases be more affordable than investing an onsite fitness area or facility.
A Fad Or Sustained Engagement?
While this development in personal fitness is novel and exciting, it is unclear how long the excitement will last. Many games are simplistic and only require people to lean left/right to collect gems or dodge punches. Pokemon Go failed to deliver long-lasting results with most users returning to their baseline level of activity after a couple of weeks of playing the game. New virtual reality games face the same threat unless companies find a way to make their experience sustainably engaging.