VR Fitness: Can My Virtual Reality Game Be a Workout?

Here’s what the science says about whether virtual reality (VR) games are a workout, and what you need to know to get started.

Can video games be a workout? Yes, experts say, and virtual reality (VR) technology is ushering in a whole new way to exercise.

Pop on a VR headset, load up the right game, and suddenly you’re in sparring in a boxing ring or skiing in the Swiss Alps, says Aaron Stanton, founder and director of the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise, an independent research organization launched in 2017 to study the effects of virtual and augmented reality technology on fitness. (Since its founding, the organization has partnered with San Francisco State University and the virtual reality platform VIVE.)

VR exercise isn’t different from other types of aerobic exercise, according to Stanton. You’re getting your heart rate up, working up a sweat, and burning calories — but it’s not as monotonous as logging miles on a treadmill.

“The best exercise is the one with the highest amount of painless minutes,” Stanton says. You’re going to keep doing the workouts that don’t feel like a chore and instead feel like something you actually enjoy, he says. “That is where VR comes in. It’s fun, so you forget you’re even exercising.”

Here’s more about what the research says, as well as everything you need to know to get started with VR fitness.

Virtual reality is a computer-simulated environment; hardware (a VR headset) allows users to navigate and interact with the simulation. VR can be used for many purposes, such as medical care and research, training, entertainment, and yes, fitness.

With VR fitness, you use hardware (the VR headset) and software (a collection of games) to immerse yourself in virtual surroundings, explains Mathias Sorensen, an American College of Sports Medicine–certified personal trainer and curriculum manager at the American Fitness and Nutrition Academy. Sorensen, an avid gamer, says he started using VR fitness games in 2015.