Virtual reality fitness: Improving physical and mental health

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With summer just around the corner, many of us will be wanting to get ourselves into shape for our upcoming holidays. But the effect of the hot weather in summer means that it can be all too easy to get back into bad habits and put fitness regimes on the backburner. The thought of being stuck in the gym, pounding the treadmill fills many of us with dread, but it needn’t, there are other, more stimulating ways to get fit.

No, this isn’t referring to the latest rave or spin classes you find down at your local gym, the hottest celebrity HIIT workout, but the new wave of virtual reality fitness.

Virtual reality may not be something you would automatically associate with working out, but experts believe that “in five years, there won’t be a gym in the US that doesn’t have some component of virtual or augmented reality” – and it’s easy to see why. 

Forget the pain

As you huff and puff on that treadmill, you’re likely in absolute awe of athletes and how they somehow just seem to ignore the pain, always pushing themselves harder to reach the next level. It’s well-known that often, the biggest challenge and obstacle to reaching your fitness goals is not having the physical ability, but the mental strength. That’s exactly where VR can help.

If you’re using VR in your workouts then your brain is preoccupied with other stimuli, helping to take your mind off the pain and how tired you feel. Wearing a VR headset, 80% of your brain is concentrating on visual pathways, leaving far less mental capacity to focus on other elements, cheating yourself into having that athlete-like level of determination and willpower. 

Just the very nature of VR games, not even those specifically for fitness, can help you to ‘painlessly’ burn those calories. For those of you more at the ‘sofa’ stage of your fitness journey. VR games will to get you up and moving and you’ll not even realise that you’re doing exercise. It’s only looking at your Fitbit afterwards that will tell you otherwise. Recently, San Francisco State University created the VR Health Institute for the very purpose of measuring and rating games by their calorie burning benefits, realising their role in helping look after people’s physical health.

For those of you not only looking to get your heart rate up but to also build up your strength, new VR developments could also soon get you lifting those heavier weights. VR studios are creating bespoke VR rooms in its gyms for a new kind of weight lifting workout. You just need to adjust the cable machines for your height and strength and you’re provided with your own personal coach – no need to fork out for a personal trainer ‒ to talk you through each exercise. The system remembers your past workouts and as your fitness levels increase, you progress through the game. This helps not only to motivate you, but it encourages you to be excited about exercise.

Good for the body and soul

VR can help mix up and transform the humdrum of your normal workout routine, but health and fitness is now so much more than just sprints on the treadmill and pumping iron, it’s about looking after every aspect of your health and wellbeing.  When you’re seeking to turn over a healthy new leaf, don’t forget about the benefits of working out your mind as well as your body.  Yes, you get an amazing rush of endorphins post-workout, but exercise can also let you completely switch off and relax, forgetting those problems at work and decreasing your stress levels.

VR has a clear role to play in this too. Medical research is already utilising VR to help maintain mental agility in seniors and help sufferers deal with Post Traumatic Stress. It can also be used to aid anyone’s day-to-day mental health.

Have you ever attempted to do a yoga session but no matter how much you focus on your breathing and try to shut out your thoughts, you just can’t blank out the hectic scenes around you? Imagine, if no matter where you are, at home or in the office, you could easily transport yourself elsewhere? With VR you can. Finding yourself by a lake in the Dolomites would certainly help get you in the right frame of mind and find your zen, immediately helping to reduce any stress or anxiety.

An aerobics class, weight training and yoga, all in one ‒ VR has it all for a fully comprehensive workout to give your fitness routine a real boost. So, how can you make VR part of your everyday health and fitness regime?

You can get involved too

Some VR studios are hoping to open up its own specialist gyms this year, but you don’t need to wait for one to be opened near you or for your own gym to catch onto the trend, you can level up your workout with VR now. Even better, there’s no need to even step foot in a gym, it can all be done form the comfort of your own home. You just need the right gear.

Firstly, and most importantly, is the kit. Before you can start your virtual reality workout, you’ll of course need to get a VR headset. Oculus Rift or HTC Vive are usually the go-to headsets for fitness buffs and will ensure a high-quality and immersive experience.

To fully enjoy your VR workout your PC will also need to be prepared – you don’t want a technology glitch to be responsible for stopping you reach that new personal best. You’ll need to have a graphics card and, as VR can be a real drain on computer memory, you should make sure your PC has at least 8GB of RAM installed for using the HTC Vive or 16GB minimum for Oculus Rift. Having enough graphics power in addition to sufficient RAM is important to ensure good quality of the VR imagery.

With your tech sorted, it’s time to head to the VR app store and browse through the games on your computer or the device itself. Not sure what will be the right workout for you? Here’s a few suggestions to find the games that are really going to help you level up. For those of you wanting to ramp up your fitness more gently and gradually, the Tilt Brush may be a good place to start, and can also make for a good warm up ahead of your main workout.  For the fitness fanatics amongst you, who are really looking for that killer burn, Sparc is a VR dodgeball workout, with the constant dodging of obstacles great for conditioning both your upper and lower body. Or, look towards Audioshield for true fat burn, likened to sweating it out on a rowing or cycling machine at the gym – just much more fun. And if you fancy yourself as a bit of Muhammad Ali, then give Thrill of the Fight a go.

These are only a select few to get you started and there are plenty more options. The hardest part will be choosing which workout to go for. Once your kit is set up, you’ve decided on your workout of choice it’s time to boost that heart rate. So, don’t let yourself hit a summer fitness slump. Grab your headset and get training.

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