Virtual reality games are crushing stereotypes about ways we can use computer games to lose weight, improve our mental health, increase cardiovascular activity, gain muscle and achieve overall wellness.

It’s no secret that traditional video games have been linked with increased BMI (body mass index) and obesity. For twenty years, the health and fitness community has proclaimed that playing video games is bad for our health. Many of the concerns were justifiable and increased with excessive amounts of time people spent gaming rather than pursuing other activities such as walking, hiking, biking, swimming, running, jumping, etc.

This began to change somewhat with the release of the Nintendo Wii Fit in 2007. The Wii Fit came with games that would force the user to move in order to play them and people were encouraged to document their weight loss journeys online. Over 1 million of the consoles have been sold and the Wii Fit Plus Upgrade Disc allows users to customize their workouts, track calories, and basically design a personalized workout routine.

While Nintendo has most definitely broadened our horizons, it’s still an effort to force oneself to stick with it long term. According to the Wii Fit Plus website, you’re combining “fun and fitness into one product.” And there is the underlying problem. Even if we’re having fun, it’s still a product that reminds us that we’re overweight, unhealthy and need to exercise more.

Virtual reality is changing traditional thinking about video games as well as health and fitness. The world is quickly discovering the facts that were true for traditional video games or consoles are shattered when it comes to virtual reality. Traditional video games do create sedentary lifestyles. The Wii Fit is fun and helps with fitness as long as you use it, but just like all the gym memberships that are cancelled in February, many people stop using the Wii Fit because the fact is that people don’t want to be reminded of the fact that they’re having to work so hard for better health.

Tye Sheridan in Ready Player One. Credit to: Warner Bros.

With that in mind, rather than being constantly reminded that we’re using a fitness program, what if we actually went hiking, walking, running, jumping, etc. – or at least thought we did?

Although nothing can replace experiences in the real world, virtual reality comes pretty darn close to giving us unlimited experiences in our own homes. The reasons people would want to do this are varied but the fact is that many people don’t have the opportunity to climb mountains or walk through the Grand Canyon or even go to a local park.

Recently I was telling a new VR user that my family was completely new to gaming. My children explored the woods, waded in creeks and went on adventures when they were growing up. When they were young, we had no gaming consoles – at all. He said this sounded like a great environment to grow up in, but he had used gaming consoles from the time he was a young boy because it was safer than roaming the city streets in his hometown of Chicago.

Even for those who don’t live in crime-ridden neighborhoods, VR users are able to go places, do things and meet people they otherwise wouldn’t. When people are in virtual reality, they aren’t there for the “product” or the “workout routine,” they’re there for the experience. The added benefit is that these experiences are changing their health.

Chris B., 56, an avid VR user from Texas, recently visited his family doctor. After his last yearly checkup, he began spending time in the social environment of Echo VR. His doctor was impressed with the fact that he has lost 10 pounds, his bloodwork was all normal and his BMI is exactly where it should be for someone his age. Other changes were even more impressive. Before VR, Chris had pre-hypertension, but his blood pressure is now back to normal levels. He was also pre-diabetic and his blood sugar levels are now controlled.

According to Chris, the first thing his doctor did was ask what he had been doing. When he explained that he had been playing virtual reality, his doctor “was amazed and never heard of someone improving their health that way.”

“Echo VR has been a godsend to me,” states Chris. Virtual reality is a gaming system, but like many people who become involved in the various social communities in virtual reality, it’s not just a game or a means to wellness. It’s a community. Chris says, “I really can’t imagine being without it now.”

While Ready at Dawn has done an awesome job with their Echo universe games and others have testified to the weight one can lose while playing this game, there are other VR games that are helping users lose weight and gain wellness.

Robert Long has lost 138 pounds playing Beat Saber. Like many of us who have struggled with weight issues brought on by injury or illness, Robert was trapped “because it was hard to get around and I felt so depressed that my life felt like it had been taken away, that I didn’t lose weight.”

As you can read in the VR Fitness Insider article featuring Robert’s story, playing Beat Saber has the exercise equivalent of playing tennis so you can burn 6-8 calories per minute. In their evaluation of the game, the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise states that “other than ducking, Beat Saber did not require the player to move their feet much in order to be successful at the game.” The game’s “primary exercise comes from the fast upper body movement needed to slice musical blocks, along with moderate side-to-side leaning, and occasional squats to avoid obstacles.”

One of the reasons virtual reality is enabling people to have unprecedented levels of weight loss is because it allows people to start where they are able. When I first began playing Echo Arena and people discovered that I played seated, I was told repeatedly that it’s a “standing game” and it was impossible to play in a chair. They were wrong. Since I’ve had repeated deep vein thromboses in pelvic and abdominal region, blood flow doesn’t return from my legs well when I’m standing so I must play in a chair. Like Robert and many others who are using virtual reality for fitness, VR allows the user to enter virtual games and environments in the comfort of their own home, moving whatever body parts they can, wearing clothes that allow them to move freely, sitting (or lying) in whatever position is comfortable for them!

US Army veteran Kevin William gained 70 pounds while deployed in Afghanistan and now has a sedentary IT desk job. After he began playing Beat Saber and Soundboxing, he shed 32 pounds in two months and plans to continue his experiences with virtual fitness.

“When you are exercising in the ‘real world’,” according to this VR Fitness Insider interview with Kevin, “everything seems to be going slower, it’s boring and there isn’t anything to take your attention away from the pain your body is feeling.” When you’re playing in virtual environments, however, he says it “allows you to lose track of time and that 30-minute exercise you planned on doing turns into two hours and it’s time to go to bed.”

Gabriel Moss has been so impressed with the difference virtual reality made in his life that he launched a website in June called Gluten Free VR and, according to his VR Fitness Interview about the weight he has lost, plans to focus 100% of his business efforts into the site as the year progresses.

“People will start getting more fit, en masse, once being a gamer starts being connotative with being an athlete,” states Gabriel. He has lost 30 pounds thus far playing games like Onward, Echo Arena and Sparc.

Like Chris B., the 56-year-old VR user mentioned earlier, a 67-year-old Reddit user called Oldboy67 lost 12 pounds in two months playing games like Audioshield on his HTC Vive. The game encourages players to block orbs in time with engaging music. According to the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise, the game burns approximately 10-13 calories per minute, which is equivalent to biking.

People who might be hesitant to try traditional forms of exercise can make virtual reality a part of their lifestyle and it has the same results – better health and wellness. VR games are already shattering the stereotypes about gaming. VR gamers don’t mess around. They are losing weight, gaining muscle, improving overall endurance and increasing overall wellness in virtual reality experiences that leave traditional gamers on the couch.