CONTRIBUTOR

You might wonder if you read that headline correctly. Especially if you’re a parent who spends half your life prying the kids away from the screen. So, you could be surprised to hear that there are some health benefits to be gleaned from wearing virtual reality (VR) headsets, and here are five interesting ones. Up to now, many of us have only heard about the negative symptoms, right?

Let’s Get Physical

We’ve all read news reports telling us we should be aware of the negative symptoms of VR use. There have been real accounts of symptoms that include headaches, tiredness, eyestrain and debilitating neck and shoulder pain – just as anyone who sits at a computer all day complains of. But the very nature of VR – specifically – introduces new avenues for discomfort such as disorientation, dizziness, nausea and increased muscle fatigue, especially if used on a daily basis, such as in the workplace.

Too much of anything is bound to be bad for us, and we are especially mindful when it comes to caring for and ensuring our children are safe and well. But maybe there’s a happy medium. And maybe if you can’t beat ‘em, then join ‘em. After all, we live in a connected world, so the discovery that VR might not be as unhealthy as we think is a refreshing outlook.

“Our resistance to digital play is just like Socrates’s resistance to writing. It is futile. Your kids need your help. And it’s easy to provide. Parents, children and families just need to start playing in the digital world together.”

― Jordan Shapiro, The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World.

Five Benefits of Virtual Reality Headsets

Control Pain

VR has been adopted by many hospitals to help ease the pain of patients who have recently undergone surgery, given birth or been through invasive and intensive treatments such as those for cancer. It works by being totally immersive.

In the same vein as doing something to take your mind off something else, VR is shown to draw attention away from your brain and therefore away from what you are currently feeling. VR is therefore seen as having an analgesic effect; a drug-free and non-invasive pain relief. It’s an alternative therapy that’s safe for children and adults, and that’s a good thing.

Burn Energy and Get a Workout

Couch-surfing during a gaming session raises no more than your blood pressure, depending on how invested you are in the game! But the addition of a VR headset means that you are more physically involved and can use the time to actively burn those calories instead.

So, exactly which VR game burns the most calories? According to VRSpace, the results are as follows:

AudioShield Modded: Range (of calories burned) are from 10.66 to 11.85 per minute.

Thrill of the Fight: Range from 9.74 to 15.32 per minute.

PowerBeatsVR: Range from 7.2 to 8.59 per minute.

Knockout League: Range from 7.54 to 8.33 per minute.

Alleviate Anxiety and Social Isolation

The definition of social isolation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is “the lack of relationships with others and little to no social support or contact. It is associated with risk, even if people don’t feel lonely. Loneliness is feeling alone or disconnected from others. It is feeling like you do not have meaningful or close relationships or a sense of belonging.”

Sadly, social isolation and loneliness have become widespread problems in the U.S. today.

However, recent findings have shown that social VR can be used as a valuable intervention to reduce feelings of loneliness and social anxiety. Users can become engaged with others without leaving the comfort of home. The recent pandemic showed us all what isolation is like, and studies were performed based on this slice of time. One study recognized that exposure to natural environments offers an array of mental health benefits, and that VR provides simulated experiences of being in nature when outdoor access is limited.

Master Motor Skills and Improve Memory

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently reported on the application of virtual reality for spatial memory, and the results were surprising to some. Conclusively, VR improves spatial memory and cognitive skills by immersing users in realistic virtual environments. The user’s abilities to learn, navigate and interact were significantly enhanced.

Furthermore the study shows how VR can be a proper differential diagnosis tool for mild agoraphobia disorders and the presence of deficits in visuospatial working memory and navigation in people with agoraphobic-type anxiety disorders.

In the same studies, VR technology was found to have a positive effect on motor intervention for children with developmental disabilities. VR-based rehabilitation provided repetitive high-intensity tasks and immediate sensory-motor feedback on the children’s activity performance. Children’s motivation to learn was stimulated in studies, with engagement and attention improving significantly.

Deal With Phobias and Conquer Fears

Fear: Spiders, flying, open spaces, heights, clowns…there’s something or other that we are each afraid of or just not too keen on. But sometimes fears and phobias can ruin lives or greatly hamper them.

The Center for Anxiety Disorders created a method for using virtual reality as a therapy for phobias. Combining cognitive behavior therapy and in-vivo exposure, virtual reality exposure therapy was born. How is this therapy administered? Small steps is the answer. With in-vivo exposure, the patient experiences what they fear in a controlled way and in small doses. Then they can confront and gradually conquer their particular phobias.

So, we can conclude that there are real physical and mental health benefits from the use of VR headsets. Of course there’s always the small print that says to also be mindful. A spokesperson from Indivisible Game said: “When enjoyed in moderation, VR headsets and gaming experiences provide various physical and mental benefits to players all over the globe. It is recommended to spend no more than 15 minutes at a time using a VR headset, ensuring you set boundaries to limit play and enjoy real-life experiences.”