Here’s a statement about exercising indoors that most would likely agree with: it can get downright boring. It’s why gyms squeeze rows of TVs in for treadmill walkers. It’s why companies like Peloton have built displays right into their exercise bikes, connecting riders to live spin classes. And it’s an area where a technology like virtual reality (VR) makes perfect sense.
Imagine if your next workout isn’t two miles on the treadmill while you watch The View. Instead, you’re taking a few jabs at Muhammad Ali in his prime, or clearing a room alongside Bruce Lee in a virtual martial arts movie. Researchers at San Francisco State University are exploring the potential benefits of virtual-reality-based workouts, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and have teamed up with a veteran in the VR space to learn how certain VR games match up with more traditional forms of exercise.
Aaron Stanton, a former journalist in the games industry, recently opened his own research space, the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise. The team he’s working with at San Francisco State University includes Dulce Gomez, who teaches undergraduates at the university, along with kinesiology professors Marialice Kern and Jimmy Bagley.
So far, the group has looked at three games and how they fare not through the lens of a great gaming experience, but instead, how they can benefit a player’s health.They found each of the three titles can burn similar amounts of calories as traditional workout routines. A game called Thrill of the Fight, for example, can help someone burn 15 calories a minute. This is the same amount someone would burn while sprinting. The same 15 calories a minute someone might burn while swimming can be achieved by playing Holopoint, an archery game. And a rhythm-based game called Audioshield can burn between 8 and 10 calories per minute — the same amount one can burn rowing.
Kern sees how the fitness benefits of VR games could affect a parent’s purchasing decision as this information becomes more widely available.
“We’ve assessed only three games, and there are millions of them,” Kern says. “Let’s say a parent doesn’t want to see their children sitting on a couch doing games. They could look at our website and say, ‘No, I’m not getting you that one. But I think you’ll get some exercise from that one. If you play an hour a day, I’ll get you that one.”
It’s not hard to see the allure a VR experience might have over the types of workouts many view as “chores” rather than fun activities. Running in place on a treadmill with only daytime TV to distract you isn’t quite as tempting as putting on a VR helmet and dodging punches or bullets from a virtual nemesis. And as it comes to light that VR games can offer an equivalent workout to many cardio exercises we all engage in begrudgingly, we could see games work even more movement into their experiences in order to provide better workouts for players.