Meet your exercise goals with this one technology

By Adam Cochran

December is here. In less than a month, you’ll be holding yourself accountable for New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve been 100 pounds overweight for 20 years. Despite having high blood pressure and high cholesterol, I’ve never felt unhealthy or particularly out of shape, nor felt much resolve to make the lifestyle changes necessary to shed the excess pounds.

But after three COVID-restricted months of decreased activity and increased fast-food intake, my back began hurting and I began taking naps (plural) every day. Small tasks left me winded and, one day, I decided to step on our neglected bathroom scale. I’d gained nearly 40 pounds. I was approaching 150 excess pounds, and I could feel them killing me.

I immediately cut back on junk food. The first 10 pounds melted off and stayed off. However, the weight loss ended and the pain continued.

Exercise is difficult for a lot of us fat people because we eat to boost our serotonin, not to fill our stomachs. Exchanging a source of immediate pleasure for something requiring 20-60 minutes of getting our heart rate above 120 is a repulsive trade-off.

But, in September, I watched a video of a guy playing virtual reality video games. He moved quickly around a 12-foot square area, shooting and punching obstacles that were invisible to anyone who wasn’t wearing a special headset. What he was doing looked like a lot of fun, and also appeared to be a form of exercise. I decided to give the technology a shot.

I discovered a gaming device called an Oculus Quest, consisting of a fancy pair of goggles and two wireless controllers. Every game is controlled by the physical movement of the arms, head and core. I bought a used Quest and the seller gave me a brief tutorial.

My wife and kids were gone that day, so I felt safe looking silly as I put on the goggles and figured out the controllers. My first game was a $10 boxing simulator.

In less than 15 minutes, I was winded and flush. My heart rate was up and I was in tears as a result of the rush of emotion-inducing chemicals in my brain.

I had two realizations that afternoon. First, I knew this device was the key to beginning an exercise habit. Second, I realized that eating junk and being sedentary would make it impossible to ever make it through five 3-minute rounds.

That day I was 120 lbs overweight. After a month, I purchased a Fitbit activity tracker (about $99) and an accompanying scale (about $50) to automatically log my weight and heart rate. I’ve played video games on the Oculus Quest nearly every day for at least 20 minutes since late August and so far I’ve lost 22.6 pounds.

It’s nice to fit into smaller pants, but I’ve also seen changes in my energy and endurance. Not only can I fight five consecutive 3-minute rounds, but I can sword fight a couple of gladiators and bowl a few rounds in the same session.

Shortly after noticing my COVID weight gain, I met with my doctor for bloodwork. My cholesterol and blood pressure were high, as usual. 

I went back a month later, after I’d been playing Oculus games. He told me he had to verify they hadn’t mixed-up the results with another patient because all of my numbers were within the normal range. While such results aren’t a guarantee, I don’t think I’m alone.

I’ve joined several online communities for Oculus Quest owners and it’s no surprise that I’m not the only fat old guy who is using the device for fitness. Nearly every day, someone new joins the group expecting it to be full of young gamers. After apologetically announcing his or her age, they realize that the group is largely full of “50-plus-ers.”

The Oculus Quest costs $299. The device isn’t recommended for users under 14 because some science indicates that it could negatively impact the development of the brain and eyes in younger users. 

Personally, I believe that’s the perfect excuse for refusing to let the kids play with my new toy.

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