A Better You with a Virtual Reality Workout

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Anyone that’s in the know about the newest advancements in technology knows about virtual reality. It’s an extremely exciting piece of work, mostly because the versatility of it seems to be almost endless. There seems to be no limit to what can be done with virtual reality and a bit of innovation. But if there’s one place people would think virtual reality has no place, it’s in the gym. After all, how often do we see the physical and the technological mix like that? But virtual reality not only has a soon to be place in workouts, it may even make them better, through coaching, simulation, and motivation.

This is a statement that probably makes a lot of people skeptical, and it should, but there is some very real truth to it. If you’ve lived for more than a few years, it’s practically guaranteed that you’ve heard the saying ‘mind over matter.’ This saying is used all the time in exercise and workouts, though for some reason it’s usually the people that aren’t working out that say it to you.

Ironic as that is, the motto is still very true. Humans can push themselves beyond their limits with willpower, but willpower is affected by many things. Sometimes it’s outside motivation. Sometimes just hearing someone say they believe in you is enough to get through those last twenty pushups. Sometimes it’s the finish line. Being able to see the end can make it easier to reach it.

Needless to say, these are things that don’t really exist in the gym. Unless you have a really supportive partner, you probably don’t have anyone around saying you can do it near the end of your exercise. And on the treadmill, the only signs of progress and a finish line are the digital numbers on the dashboard, which are hardly motivating.

So let’s add virtual reality to the equation, and explore what that could change. To start, you could have a virtual reality coach in your workout, allowing you to follow a regimen in the gym while still receiving support and motivation from them. And for the treadmill: well, would it be nicer to run through a forest or a beach, or do you like staring at the same white wall for thirty minutes? If you could run through an environment that’s actually nice and maybe even relaxing, you are several times more likely to go through with the whole run, and maybe even beyond what you had planned.

In short, can virtual reality make you physically stronger, more fit, faster or grant you more stamina? Maybe! It can certainly amplify that aforementioned willpower. How it does this can be different for everyone because we all draw motivation from different sources, but either way, the fact remains that virtual reality can make workouts more tolerable at the very least, and even enjoyable at best. Doesn’t lifting weights in Tibet or flying through space sound much nicer than the gym? These environments are not far from reach, they are well within grasp of the average consumer in the next 5 years, you'll see virtual reality in gyms within the next 1-2 years and fitness apps available for VR headsets as soon as this year. You'll see full-body haptic feedback suits and apps that measure your heart rate too.

Drop and give me 20 - million! Because there are 20 million ways VR is going to change fitness.

How Virtual Reality Helps Women Cope with the Pain of Labor

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Childbirth hurts. It’s a simple fact of life that we can never change or escape, many expectant mothers have a lot of anxiety about exactly how painful it will be. And while the payoff is most certainly worth the suffering, it certainly would be nice if, maybe, women didn’t have to experience so much pain during labor. Of course, there are medications to address some of the discomfort, but for many reasons many women are reluctant to rely on such things. Thankfully, there is an alternative option coming onto the scene that many skeptics will likely scoff at, and that’s virtual reality.

Contrary to popular opinion, virtual reality is not just the next level of gaming. It has a vast variety of other applications, including medical. You may be wondering how strapping on a pair of goggles could possibly make childbirth less painful, but there’s a great deal of merit to mind over matter when it comes to any kind of pain, including that of childbirth.

You’ve likely experienced two types of injuries in your life. The ones you immediately notice and feel, and the ones you seemingly accrue from nowhere, and you never even noticed the bruise or the cut until someone pointed it out to you. But the injury itself didn’t change. A cut is a cut, and a bruise is a bruise. But an injury you pay more attention to is more painful than one that you don’t really notice or successfully ignore. The same is true for all types of pain. If you can focus on something else besides the pain, it actually hurts a lot less. It’s an aspect of psychology that has been long proven. Our pain is connected to our attention.

Of course, it’s hard to focus on anything but the pain when you’re in a hospital room and surrounded by doctors and nurses. The key to focusing on something else is being in a different environment, and that’s where virtual reality comes in. One of the most amazing aspects of virtual reality is that it can take you pretty much anywhere that can be imagined. Sandy beaches, rolling hills, a clear lake, another planet, you name it. Whatever your most relaxing terrain is, virtual reality will take you there.

In fact, this method has already been used a few times already. During an experimental phase to test the effectiveness of this concept, expecting mothers that refused epidural were asked to try a virtual reality headset instead. Transported to a relaxing evening on a beach with a campfire and a calming waterfall in the background, a soothing voice helped instruct you to breathe as you watched birds in the sky or the waves roll across the sand.

It certainly sounds a lot nicer than a sterile white hospital room, that’s for sure. But it’s not just hypothesis; the results speak for themselves. On average, the women that made use of the virtual reality headset during childbirth experienced an 82% reduction in pain, and they were able to relax for the entirety of the process much more easily.

The science speaks for itself. Being distracted from pain makes it far more tolerable and less acute. And since you can’t really go find a nice white beach to give birth on, the next best thing is virtual reality, which will let you experience it all the same. Less stress for mom means less stress for baby and everyone can experience this beautiful time a little easier. 

Please also read our white paper: "Using Virtual Reality for the Reduction of Anxiety: An Introduction to How Immersive VR Can Improve the Treatment of Anxiety"

Could Virtual Reality Make You More Empathetic?

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We all know virtual reality is one of the most exciting and innovative technologies to come out recently, but what most of us are still wondering is what we can do with it. There really is no one answer to this, because one answer could never encompass the full capabilities and potential of virtual reality in society. From medicine to exercise to entertainment, virtual reality seems to be truly limitless, but the more intricate aspects of its potential includes what it can do for human thought and emotion. A very recent question is this; can virtual reality make you more empathetic?

It’s not like empathetic manipulation is anything new. Just think of one of those commercials about abused pets and you know how it works. Even young children quickly learn how to manipulate the empathy of others to get what they want. Empathy is a key component of compassion for others, but these days such qualities are very difficult to come by. We’re all guilty of it at some point; we feel bad about something or someone’s situation, but we do nothing to actually change it.

That’s why evoking empathy in people is so important. Without empathy there is no charity, and without charity there are many worthy causes that would soon be bankrupt. So the question of how to increase empathy in others is always a question, but now the question extends to whether or not virtual reality can be used for such a purpose.
Television commercials often seek to show charity in need in an attempt to make you feel more empathetic to the cause. The problem is, you are still in the comfort of your own home, sitting on your couch and relaxing. You can see the situation, but you don’t really feel it. Virtual reality aims to change that.

Imagine that, rather than simply watching a commercial about an animal shelter or refugees coming off of a boat or children in a hospital, you were actually there. Imagine that you could sit in the same tent as a refugee family, seeing and hearing their life. Imagine being in the same hospital room as a child afflicted with cancer. This fuller immersion that virtual reality would provide will make the message more potent. It’s easy to ignore something when you can detach yourself from it. But if you are thrust right into the thick of it, it’s almost impossible to ignore. We feel more feelings of sadness, hope, and empathy when we are “really there” so to speak, as virtual reality makes us feel.

It’s been shown that people donate and donate more, through the vehicle of virtual reality. The true purpose of the application of this technology for empathy is to make people want to really make a difference in the world after they take the headset off. This is very promising for the future of cause initiatives!

Anxiety Reduction, Pain Distraction and VR

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In an effort to manage patient anxiety and control the costs of surgery, virtual reality (VR) is being used as an alternative to anesthesia and sedation in medical procedures with great success. One pioneering physician in Mexico began his research into this practice by beginning with the use of video games and moving to VR after experiencing success. The results have been published in an alternative to anesthesia and sedation in medical procedures with great success. One pioneering physician in Mexico began his research into this practice by beginning with the use of video games and moving to VR after experiencing success. The results have been published in an article by Jo Marchant with the BBC.

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. In 2004, Dr. Jose Luis Mosso Vazquez, a surgeon at Panamerican University in Mexico City, bought a Spider-Man game for his son. The game, an early form of VR, involved images projected onto a head-mounted display. Dr. Mosso was struck by how immersed his son became in the game and wondered if this was something that he could use to reduce the level of anxiety that patients experience during minor surgery. Dr. Mosso experimented using the Spider Man game with the head-mount while doing endoscopies. Patients were encouraged to play the game during the procedure instead of being sedated. He asked patients to score their pain level during the procedure and found that the immersive quality of the game reduced the need for sedation. In 2006, Dr. Mosso presented his results at the Medicine Meets Virtual Reality conference in California.

At the conference, Dr. Mosso met Albert “Skip” Rizzo, a psychologist (and now Director of Medical VR at the University of Southern California), who had been doing similar research with endoscopies. “He presented 10 cases,” says Mosso. “I presented 200.” Rizzo showed Mosso the expensive, state-of-the-art head-mounted displays he was using. “It was another world,” says Mosso. But then Rizzo revealed the equipment with which he had begun – it was the exact same Spider-Man game.

Rizzo was impressed with Mosso’s research and donated a headset to him. Rizzo also convinced a colleague, Brenda Wiederhold of the Virtual Reality Medical Center in San Diego, to let Mosso use some virtual worlds she had developed specifically for pain relief.

Mosso returned to Mexico and began using his new VR setup in a wide range of procedures, including childbirth and heart surgery. VR helped patients relax in all situations, but Mosso had the most success using VR in minor outpatient procedures where patients are awake but sedated. In these procedures, Mosso used a virtual scenario developed by Wiederhold called Enchanted Forest. This virtual world was meant to relax the patient and allowed them to explore rivers, lakes, trees, and forests. Virtual experiences involving guns and violence are not used because they tend to increase blood pressure, which could result in uncontrolled bleeding.

In using VR, Dr. Mosso found that patients required half as much sedation as they normally would require and, in some cases, required no sedation. In addition to relieving patient anxiety, there has been a significant cost savings for the clinics for sedative drugs such as fentanyl and midazolam, which are very expensive. Dr. Mosso estimates that the cost of surgery has been reduced by 25%. More important, less sedation reduces the risk of complications and recovery times. With these results, Dr. Mosso hopes to see VR more widely used not just for surgery, but to relieve pain in medical situations such as wound care and dentistry, as well as in chronic conditions such as phantom limb pain. And in areas where resources are limited, VR may be a welcome solution.

"Mosso doesn’t have the facilities here to sedate her, or offer her any painkillers more powerful than the local anesthetic, so he plugs in the laptop and switches the VR back on. Veronica keeps Oliveria talking as Mosso works. “What do you see?” she asks. “Fishes, water, stones,” Oliveria replies."

The University of Washington did a striking study with burn victims, showing them an experience they called SnowWorld during sessions of skin grafting. "Pain research using fMRI brain scans show significant reductions in pain-related brain activity..."

 

Photo credit: University of Washington

 

Using VR as a high-tech distraction technique allows surgeons to carry out operations that would normally require powerful painkillers and sedatives, with nothing more than local anesthetic. In addition to significant cost savings, VR has demonstrated that its immersive quality reduces patient anxiety and facilitates speedier recovery. Now that there is research to support these claims and the price of headsets has come down, consumers can hope that more doctors will take advantage of VR in improving patient experience and outcomes.

This attention distraction power is also a game changer for uncomfortable procedures such a dialysis and chemotherapy, waiting rooms, as well as what Mosso has done, for everything from fom childbirth to heart surgery. Distraction VR is sure to be a catalyst in VR wellness applications.

Please also read our white paper: "Using Virtual Reality for the Reduction of Anxiety: An Introduction to How Immersive VR Can Improve the Treatment of Anxiety"

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