VR Health & Exercise Institute Finds Many VR Games Are Better Exercise Than a Treadmill

Organization is rating VR games based on calories burned per minute


According to Aaron Stanton, director of the newly-founded Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise, many of the popular VR games and applications are actually more effective at burning calories than a traditional treadmill exercise routine. The organisation recently announced a program to independently assess VR games in a controlled environment, with the aim of publishing the results through a rating system.

Back in 2006, Nintendo’s Wii console popularised motion controllers, enticing people off the couch for a spot of ‘arm flailing’ with its addictive title Wii Sports. Although there were successful fitness titles on the platform, most gamers quickly discovered that the basic accelerometer-based motion sensing of the Wii Remotes could be easily fooled with short flicks of the wrist rather than full swings, and in many cases the seated ‘waggle’ became the more effective way to play.

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In VR however, fully-tracked motion controllers mean that it is impossible (assuming a properly designed game) to ‘cheat’ the system in this way, and players really do need to perform appropriate motions to succeed in virtual sports and action games. Racket: Nx and Rec Room’s Disc Golf are great examples, as similar racket and disc-throwing games on the Wii could be easily played while seated, with just a slight flick of the wrist. Try that in VR, and you’ll struggle to play, let alone win anything. The games expect and reward physicality, and in any case, the level of immersion in VR is so much higher that players are naturally more compelled to move. Thus, the potential health benefits of VR is likely much higher than traditional gaming.

“We created the program after realizing that I had worked out in VR for more than a hundred hours without realising it,” writes Aaron Stanton, director of the Institute, in a message to Road to VR. “We later confirmed through metabolic testing that many VR titles are better calorie burners than a traditional treadmill or elliptical, making my VR system the best exercise equipment I’ve ever purchased. I believe VR has the potential to have a life-saving impact on society. That’s why we created the VR Health Institute.”

Image courtesy VR Institute of Health and Exercise

The Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise recently began publishing their initial ratings for a number of popular titles on their site, sorted by Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) range. The intention is for the VR Exercise Ratings labels to become similar in function to ESRB content ratings, giving a way to see the potential health benefits of a particular title at a glance. The Institute suggests that VR games can be especially effective because they are compelling to play, meaning that users end up doing significant exercise without thinking about it.

Some of the results are surprising; the relaxed paint app Tilt Brush is apparently a similar calorie burner to the intense shooter Raw Data, and both are in the ‘walking equivalent’ range, burning around 2–4 calories per minute. Then there is boxing game Knockout League rated in the 8–10 calories per minute range, yet Thrill of the Fight is the highest calorie burner by far, at ‘15+’ calories per minute, despite also being a boxing title, albeit a more realistic one. At this MET range, Thrill of the Fight is up in the ‘sprinting’ or ‘running up stairs’ zone; you might want to consider a sweat-resistant headset cover. You can see all of the game’s that the Institute has measured here.

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  • nasprin

    If you want a little bit more sweat than usual try wrist weigths. Especially for games like Gorn or QuiVR. Though i must say i never managed to play holopoint with weights longer than 20-25 Minutes and had to take a shower afterwards…

    • Jean-Sebastien Perron

      If you want a little bit more sweat than usual… try Alien Isolation in VR.

      • nasprin

        There are nicer ways to go insane, thanks!

      • NooYawker

        maybe if you want to poop yourself.

        • Jean-Sebastien Perron

          Bonus, you loose weight.

          • Flamerate1

            “Lose weight in seconds!”

    • NooYawker

      Knockout League!

  • Tyler Soward

    after an hour or so of Gorn or Soundboxing I’m pretty much a sweaty, exhausted mess

  • dogtato

    I feel like their rating for Sword Master VR is too low, but Thrill of the Fight and Holopoint seem accurate to me. Thrill of the Fight leaves me gasping on the ground after one fight.

    Really cool project

  • appsandstocks

    One hour of “Eleven Table Tennis” and I have to wipe the floor…

  • iUserProfile

    So when you write calories you mean kcal as in kilo calories? Otherwise I’m certainly burning more calories writing this petty correction than playing Thrill of the Fight for a mere second.

    • Caven

      …and you could eat 1000 packages of Twinkies without having to worry about even a single pound of weight gain.

      At least in everyday usage in the US, a calorie IS a kilo calorie. I rarely see anything marked with “kcal”, even when though that’s what they’re actually referring to.

      • iUserProfile

        Really? Strange. We germans sure love our measurements to be correct
        ;) marking food with just calories instead of kcal whould certainly be inviting a lawsuit.

        • Flamerate1

          How many kcals is, say, a typical sugary drink, in Germany?
          I’m asking because, as a US citizen, I never knew calories went by that system. (That could tell you how health oriented the US is.)
          Also, the prefixes don’t usually matter if you convert them correctly. Saying 1000 calories instead of 1 kcal won’t create a lawsuit, as they are same thing.

          • iUserProfile

            In Germany you’ll have always the information about the energy food holds in kcal (Kilocalories) and kJ (Kilojoul) as well as how much fat (+saturated fat), carbohydrats (+ sugar), protein, salt and about everything else is in it in g (Gramm). 100 ml Coke has 42 kcal (42.000 calories). So you’ll have 420 kcal per Liter and in a Gallon that whould be about 1590 kcal.

          • Flamerate1

            Ok I understand now. I can now admit that it’s a little weird that we (the US) just call them calories, but I guess it’s not that weird since we use so many other different standards as well.

  • petek480

    Yeah… the only thing in VR that’ll be better exercise than a real treadmill will be a virtual treadmill while you’re running on a real one. I’ve played lone echo for 4+ hours straight and the only place i was sweating was my head from the headset. Thrill of the fight was the only VR experience that I felt a bit tired from doing and that was only when I first got it and I was swinging nonstop like an idiot.

    • Flamerate1

      Any fighting should be good exercise.
      The game Gorn really made me sweat. My arms hurt.

  • So… VR can be the new Wii-Fit?

    • Flamerate1

      Except you won’t abandon it after a short amount of time.

  • bima Refianto

    Virtual reality can now be said to be loved by the people of the world because playing games by way of directly entering the game after I read this article
    It turns out that VR can also be used for therapy so won’t it be fun if the therapy is to enjoy the thrill of the game?