Azren Azimuddin is a lively fellow, with a passion for music, dance, technology, and virtual reality. I spoke with him about his success in combining his interests for all the above into a fun, and successful weight loss and exercise program, using the Oculus Quest to play the most popular VR rhythm games.
VRFI – Hi Azren, thanks for speaking with VRFI. Let us start with a little bit about yourself. What is your background and how did you first discover VR?
Azren – Hi there! My name is Azren Azimuddin or people call me just Azren. I would call myself a creative content professional and have produced/strategized B2C and B2B content for a wide range of industries including events, television, tourism, international trade, medical, and financial technology. I’ve always had a keen passion for science, technology, and creative applications. I also have a big passion for playing/teaching musical instruments. I mainly play guitar and ukulele focusing on tapping techniques, where I play the rhythms/melodies and drum beats at the same time. I have been featured on national TV a few times for my musical pursuits.
I first discovered VR as part of my work which involves writing/designing digital content, where I started to experiment with VR/360 and AR content as part of various marketing campaigns. To further the creative exploration process, I then decided to purchase my 1st VR headset, a basic Google cardboard whereby you strap your phone onto your face.
VRFI – Not the most capable VR headset to begin with then! Was VR’s potential for fitness and exercise something you were aware of immediately or did its potential grow on you over time?
Azren – Initially, my main purpose of using the Google Cardboard VR headset I had, was to test the digital VR/360 visual content I created for work. However I remember one time, I played one of those 360 EDM music animated videos on youtube and started dancing. Wow! What an experience! By the end of the 360 music video, I was sweating like hell! This was one of those eureka moments as I had found a portable health & fitness solution, that is so much fun! I saw the potential of VR making exercise more effortless. This was very important to me, as I have a desk job sitting in front of a computer most days from 9-5 and beyond, and needed a way to motivate myself to do more exercise.
However, dancing to the VR 360 videos was not enough. I wanted more….. something more exciting and after some further research, I decided to upgrade my VR setup and chose the Oculus Quest due to its amazing potential as a portable exercise machine.
VRFI – One thing that is interesting about you is that you do not merely play the fitness games, but you like to actually dance whilst playing them too, which must ramp up the calorie burn as well require a lot more coordination than I possess. Did you like to dance before VR and is that something that just came naturally, or have you evolved that over time?
Azren – When I got the Quest, I did start with sports & fitness-specific games, did reasonable amounts of exercise. However, what really got me going was when I tried rhythm games like Beat Saber. Wow! It felt like a new musical instrument from beyond outer space! With these rhythm games, I noticed that I would do far longer VR exercise sessions, and naturally attracted to them due to the rhythm games’ similarities to playing musical instruments, which I am very familiar with.
Naturally, I started dancing/moving my body in VR, as dance feels like an “extension” of my musical performance and expressions. I love dancing! Also, I used to dance in clubs and festivals in England where I lived for 15 years. The dance music scene there is well known to be one of the best in the world. Anyway, as part of my VR dance routine, I started to incorporate some ‘shuffle’ dance moves, which I used to do back in my clubbing days. This allows me to “relive” my clubbing days in virtual reality. Obviously over this lockdown period of COVID-19, with the shutdown of clubs and social outlets, VR dancing is a great alternative to stay safe at home and have fun, while, staying fit and healthy.
Yes, it does require extra coordination to play rhythm games and do the extra dance moves. I suppose coordination comes naturally for me, as on top of the guitar and ukulele, I can also play piano and drums, which requires a lot of coordination. Don’t take me wrong. Given time, anyone can learn to do it, they say practice makes perfect. I am still always learning. I still go through some shuffle dance specific tutorials on Youtube/Facebook to improve my knowledge of dance. In fact, I am planning to explore other genres of dance in the future such as Zumba, hip-hop, swing dance, etc to be incorporated into this VR dance fitness routine I do.
I think it’s worth the effort to try to learn to dance more in your VR rhythm gaming, as you can exercise and strengthen your legs more, and learn to express yourself with your full body. Of course, you will sweat more, burn more calories as dancing is one of the most intense forms of cardio exercise, as it forces you to move and use nearly all of the muscles on your body. Furthermore, once you are comfortable with dancing, sometimes you can just take off your VR headset, and just dance, in the real world! Thus embedding a health and fitness mechanism, right into your very own body.
VRFI – So what are your favorite games?
I also sometimes experiment, put on some of my own MP3’s and start dancing while drawing in Tilt Brush, dancing while designing in Gravity Sketch, dancing while browsing/researching in front of the oculus browser or Firefox. I know it sounds very wacky, but I am dancing and sweating! Who cares! Who knows, I might start dancing one day on Spatial while having a work meeting/conference call haha 🙂
VRFI – How do you feel VR exercise has benefited you? Have you lost weight and improved your overall fitness in a measurable way?
Azren – Yes I lost a tonne of weight. Well, not a tonne, but 12KG to be exact haha. I would say that is a fairly large weight loss over a couple of months, and I had a tonne of fun doing it.
More importantly, I think my overall cardiovascular health has improved. I am more energetic and have better overall stamina at doing general day to day tasks. Besides that, I also feel better mentally as I seem to be more resilient to stress, I am sharper and more focused. Generally, I feel far less lethargic & tired after a long day at work since I started doing VR.
One thing interesting I found, I was forced to take medical leave from work due to flu, and this was when I stopped doing VR for a period of 2 weeks due to the increased workload at my job and not having enough time for VR sessions. In fact, I was never sick at all, with a zero track record of medical leave at work, all throughout the time, I stayed on my VR dance fitness schedule. This could have been a coincidence, but I do I really believe that VR fitness does strengthen our immune system and can make you more resilient to diseases, due to its potential as an intense cardio exercise activity. Scientific & medical studies have mentioned many health and medical benefits of cardio exercise. Thus I see VR headsets as a great piece of medical technology. This area of technology is an interesting field, with some other VR/AR software/hardware out there gaining as far as FDA/CE certifications.
VRFI – Do you have a structured routine for working out or do you just play casually and have lost weight as a by-product of having fun?
Azren – I do about an hour 4-6 days of the week. Maybe at the weekend, I might extend the session to 2 hours ( or more if I am really enjoying myself ) Of course, this is a very rough routine, as if I put too much discipline into it, I will start lagging off a bit, as it becomes too much of a chore. Got to keep the fun element in to keep going.
VRFI – What advice or suggestions would you give to anybody new wanting to get into VR?
I think firstly, have a lot of absolute fun. Then be free, experiment, be creative, and go beyond what the game/app tells you to do. Next, find your niche and work on it. My niche is a passion for rhythm games and I focused on it, and used my passion for music, and extended and combined it with dance. Maybe your passion is boxing games? Work on it. Go beyond boxing. Get inspiration/motivation from other games, not just boxing games. Or try something related eg street fighting or ninja games? Also, go outside VR, and take boxing lessons from youtube or an instructor. Maybe go further, extend, and learn kickboxing. Or even look at other martial arts which I am sure involves boxing moves and punches. For example, Bruce Lee’s martial art Jeet Kune Do was famous for his “One Inch Punch.” Work out your own way, only you will know your own path, in virtual reality. Find what makes you happiest the most.
VRFI – Some great advice there! Finally, do you have anything else you’d like to add or say to our readers?
Azren – It’s amazing to me how the virtual world can reflect positive changes in the real world. Time spent in virtual reality has allowed me to gain better physical and mental health, in my very own reality. And I truly am enjoying myself doing it.
Stay healthy. Stay safe. And have a tonne of fun!
VRFI – Thanks for talking with us Azren!