Kevin Brook, a 43-year-old VR fitness fan from the UK, works for the National Health Service as a member of the NHS Healthy Lifestyles team. As an NHS Health Trainer, Kevin works with local clients to help them make healthy lifestyle changes like making healthy food choices, losing weight, quitting smoking, and staying active.
We were intrigued by Kevin’s personal journey to health and fitness and how he has used VR to enhance his life and exercise routine.
VRFI: What inspired you to purchase a VR headset?
Kevin: Ironically, I knew nothing about VR or had any real interest at first. What happened was that my computer, which had been state-of-the-art eight years ago finally gave up on me and I had to buy another. I’ve always been a sucker for advertising and top end specifications so wanted to buy the best computer I could afford. It just so happened that ‘virtual reality ready’ was a tagline in all the top end computers I looked at when selecting my model.
When I purchased my VR headset Oculus announced their ‘Summer of Rift’ sale, slashing the headset and touch bundle to just £399. The sale price was less than a third of the cost of the actual computer I bought and seemed almost an impulse buy in comparison!
VRFI: How did you go from being a casual VR experiencer to exercising with VR?
Kevin: When I got my headset, I really had no idea what to expect. I had seen videos of people online gasping at seeing a giant whale under the ocean and had read about virtual museum and art tours and I was eager to try those out. But, I hadn’t even used a mobile VR device before so I had no reference as to what virtual reality would be like.
Before I put the headset on I was imagining a kind of giant IMAX cinema screen effect, but what I actually experienced was so much better and really blew me away. I was literally IN the world, part of it, with my hands present and able to pick up and interact with objects. It really amazed me and felt like a genuine technological breakthrough.
My first couple weeks were spent downloading lots of different experiences of varying degrees of quality. I played a few Xbox controller type games, which reminded me of why I don’t really like gaming mostly, but The Climb just opened a whole new world of experience up to me. I loved the sense of immersion I felt and the physical exhilaration of actually moving my real body to move through the virtual world.
At this point, I stopped buying games that used a controller and installed Steam to try out some more active games. I downloaded Audioshield and had a blast with it, just smashing these neon jellyfish looking orbs with shields to the beat of my favorite music. I quickly realized that, rather than complex gameplay mechanics and story driven games, what I really enjoyed doing was getting active and using VR to just have some fun and work up a sweat. At this point, I discovered VR Fitness Insider and started looking for recommendations as to what were the most physically active games to get me moving.
VRFI: We’re so glad that you found our site and have been playing VR games for exercise! We love being a part of our reader’s fitness journeys.
VRFI: Kevin, you’ve had some very intense health challenges stacked against you and still make the time to focus on health and fitness. Would you like to share with us what you’ve been through?
Kevin: I had lymphatic cancer in my early twenties, which spread quickly and required multiple chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments and eventually a bone marrow transplant. Whilst I was thankfully brought into total remission I suffered an adverse toxicity to a chemotherapy drug, Bleomycin, which started laying down fibrous scar tissue across my lungs, a disease known as Pulmonary Fibrosis. My lungs can no longer inflate and I only have 50% of my functional lung capacity.
In addition, my heart has also been affected, and I have tachycardia with a resting heart rate of about 90. I also suffered hormonal damage and can no longer produce any thyroid or testosterone so have to have regular medications and injections for them. The cumulative effect of all this is that I constantly get tired, out of breath, and have aching muscles and soreness.
VRFI: With these health issues, how do you stay motivated and fit focused?
Kevin: Exercise really makes a dramatic difference to my quality of life, but over the years actually motivating myself to keep doing it has been really difficult. The beauty of virtual reality is that I got fitter without realizing at first and I built up at a nice slow pace. Just playing standing games for a couple hours a night was a dramatic increase in activity versus sitting on the couch; and as I felt more energetic, I started to enjoy playing more active games.
What was great is that I wasn’t looking at it as me exercising to get fitter, I was just wanting to experience more of whatever game I was playing and get higher scores. I started with action games like Superhot VR, The Climb, and Raw Data, which would give me a workout, but not kill me; and then, as I realized how much I liked being pushed physically went on to actual fitness-oriented games. Now I enjoy VR gaming so much it’s not something I even need the discipline to maintain. I simply really look forward to ending my day with a VR workout.
VRFI: Which VR fitness games are you currently playing for exercise?
Kevin: For the most part, BOXING, BOXING, BOXING! I’ve always been a massive boxing and mixed martial arts fan and therefore any game where I get to punch things and pretend I’m Floyd Mayweather is an instant win for me. BoxVR, Thrill of the Fight and Knockout League are the fitness titles that almost exclusively get played.
I have lots of others but I can’t get off BoxVR long enough to play them, it’s just too much fun! I do really want to work through Holopoint, as it’s a true 360-degree archery fire fest that looks super fun and intense from what I’ve played so far. Of upcoming titles, I’m dying to try Sprint Vector — that looks really cool!
VRFI: Could you share with our readers what a VR workout looks like for you?
Kevin: I use BoxVR for about 45 minutes almost every night. It’s a great all-around cardio workout, integrating both upper body punches with squats, lunges, and side bends to fully work the entire body. As one of the few titles built purely with fitness in mind it has such a nice flow to it, with uninterrupted sequences of punching, ducking, blocking — all to awesome house/techno soundtracks. According to Steam, I’ve now played over 70 hours on this one title in only three months of owning it.
On the weekends when I have more time I like to load up The Thrill of the Fight, which is a true room-scale boxing game that turns your living room into a boxing ring. It’s the best £6.99 I have ever spent in my life! You can custom set the number of rounds to fight over and I’ve built up to 6 x 3-minute rounds, which with my lungs, has me really gasping and barely able to raise my hands by the end. My goal is to be able to last a full 12 round distance and I use BoxVR daily to help get me into shape to finally achieve that target.
Knockout League has limited appeal as an actual fighting game, but its training sections are really good fun and I love to do a bit of pad work on that game. As my fitness and energy levels have improved I’ve also started to add more traditional exercise in as well, doing push ups, pull ups, chin ups, etcetera after my VR workout to work on strength training. I’m also walking a lot more regularly as I’m just enjoying the process of being active. According to my Fitbit I have smashed 10,000 steps and 60 minutes of exercise for the last 38 days in a row and probably about 90 out of the last 100, so I think it’s fair to say it’s an ingrained habit at this point.
VRFI: What other VR games would you recommend to our readers?
Kevin: I had a blast with Arktika 1, a great duck and cover type shooter that has you throwing yourself underneath cars, crouching behind walls and railings or even hiding in skips and popping up to shoot bad guys.
The Climb is another superb title that has extraordinarily helped me overcome my crippling fear of heights. I’ve also greatly enjoyed Lone Echo and Wilson’s Heart, both of which are pretty active titles if you play standing.
VRFI: What would you like to see more of or less of in VR fitness games?
Kevin: So far I’ve explored punching style fitness games as they appear to be the most physically intense according to the VR Fitness Institute, but I’ve noticed that the dozens of hours spent in The Climb has dramatically reduced my fear of heights to the point where I’m now actually planning to have a go at indoor climbing.
I’ve also noticed that time spent in Audioshield and BoxVR has improved my coordination so I’m really interested in seeing if I can use virtual reality to improve real-world skills. I’ve not yet tried any racket sports games, but I’m now quite keen to see if playing VR table tennis will translate to real-world improvements. From what I’ve seen and read online it really does work so I’m going to explore this over the coming year.
I think one of the things I’m most hoping to see more of is quality re-creations of sports in virtual reality so that I can experience them and find out what sports and activities I might like to try for real. Having poor physical fitness and coordination coupled with the fear of ‘not wanting to suck’ had put me off trying new activities and games for fear of embarrassment or not giving my opponent a decent game. Practicing in VR against the computer and then venturing online for multiplayer action could give users at home the courage to try a sport or activity in real life. I would never have considered doing a boxercise type class in a group setting, but after three months of doing it at home, I think I’d have no problem at all with that now.
VRFI: Are there any VR trends you would like to share with us?
Kevin: I’m just a home consumer, I turn to you guys for knowledge on where the industry is going! However, it does seem that although virtual reality has converted many who have experienced it, the high-cost barrier to entry of a top end virtual reality experience means the uptake of VR in the home has not been as rapid as it deserves to be.
VRFI: Where do you think VR is headed in 2018? Which VR innovations do you look forward to?
Kevin: Speaking as a home user, I don’t foresee me upgrading from my Rift anytime soon. I think there will be a big industry push over the next couple of years for affordable, standalone mobile headsets that can bring virtual reality to the masses. Although these devices will be geared more around entertainment and simple media consumption, videos, and social apps, they will get millions more into VR, which will hopefully lead to many investing in high end and ‘true’ virtual reality systems later on.
I’m also very keen to see traditional fitness equipment integrated into virtual reality. For this to happen at a home consumer level we will need to see VR take off in commercial gyms around the world first. I’m very interested to see how innovative start-up ventures like Blackbox VR, which aims to turn the gym into a full virtual reality experience, and Floyd Mayweather’s surprising foray into the VR gym market, can help create a buzz for virtual reality in fitness gyms.
Living in a quiet seaside town on the South Coast of England I’m unlikely to get a chance to visit these gyms anytime soon, but I’m optimistic their success can have a trickle-down effect that pushes virtual reality fitness machines into the home. In the meantime, I’m more than happy to just keep on punching my way to fitness!
VRFI: Thank you, Kevin!