Is Beat Saber a good tool for weight loss or cardio?
When it comes to cardio exercise for either weight loss or general health benefit, the most important thing is consistency in performing that exercise. While going for a brisk walk, hopping on an elliptical, or hitting the treadmill now and then will certainly help, the way to reach long term sustainable goals in weight loss or in stamina is to regularly exercise. In fact the National Institute of Health recommend at least 30 to 45 minutes of moderate cardio exercise every day, but the fact is for many of us exercise simply isn’t fun. What this means it that, as imperative as it is to find something you can do consistently, you also have to find an exercise that is enjoyable. The more you enjoy the exercise, the more likely you will consistently do it, which obviously leads to overall improvements in health.
Enter videogames, and more specifically, VR.
With VR you have an unprecedented level of immersion possible, and by gamifying movement we can use that immersion to drive success in health improvement via cardio. We’ve seen videogames be used successfully used to kickstart weight loss before—whether that is gamifying a quick walk with Pokemon Go, tracking your health with WiiFit, or sweating to the groove of music with Just Dance—but VR allows what I feel is a deeper and more immersive dive into the experience. This has multiple benefits, including the way time just seems to be lost while in VR, which means no anxiously watching the clock as you attempt to finish the last of your speed walk, or HIIT session.
Beat Saber is a rhythm game in which blocks come down a lane in front of the player and as they reach the player your controllers—presented as lightsabers in the game—are used to slice through that block in the direction indicated. All of this is done to the pumping beats of various high energy songs, most designed originally for the game itself, and as the difficulty increases so does the speed of the blocks and the maneuvers you are asked to complete. At higher difficulties this becomes a whirlwind of exhilarating motion as you challenge yourself to complete difficult songs you couldn’t fathom beating when you first began the game.
I first got PSVR about a month ago, and while you can read about my full experiences with it so far here, I’m more interested in talking about the health benefits of Beat Saber today. I’ve always been a big fan of martial arts, and am a huge fan of sword play, but swinging a sword around for exercise can sometimes border on boring when you have no guidance. Combining the joy of moving your body with the addictive nature of rhythm games that slowly escalate and increase your skill, Beat Saber scratches a very specific itch I just can’t get enough of. Often I’ll have to set an alarm, as putting on the headset and getting started in Beat Saber can sometimes mean I lose hours of my day if I’m not careful.
The wonderful thing about all of this, besides the fact that I’m having fun, is that usually 30 minutes in I’m covered in sweat. I very rarely ever play below 45 minutes, and usually I crack an hour at least, with my highest time being two and a half hours straight in the headset. It is a hard thing to put down and time seems to disappear, which means it is a fantastic tool in assisting me to get cardio in and lose weight.
Still, I didn’t want to rely on just anecdotal evidence to demonstrate the power of Beat Saber for cardio, so I took to the internet and discovered a fantastic resource for all things VR and weight loss related: the Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise. This fantastic site takes a variety of VR games and breaks them down scientifically while tracking the calories burned of individuals playing the games and comes up with a rating of a sport or activity that the game is equivalent to. All of my real world data about Beat Saber was taken from their site, and please go give them a read, as their data is far more in-depth and very well done—I just aim to give you a simplified breakdown here.
In a nutshell they found that Beat Saber gave the same equivalent exercise as a round of Tennis singles. To find this they tracked the heart rate and energy expenditure of a subject in a controlled study through four distinct play sessions to receive an average amount of calories burned. Their findings indicated that an average male of 132 pounds could burn a total of 6-8 calories a minute, with that increasing depending on a helpful weight chart that you can find on the previously mentioned link. What this means is that in a standard 45 minute session a person who weighed, for example, 240 pounds could burn between 680 and 900 calories depending on intensity and difficulty level.
That is impressive for something that is as enjoyable and immersive as Beat Saber, and without a question it has allowed me to maintain my weight loss during my maintenance period of the past couple of months. Of course these numbers are based on trackers in general, which can often be unreliable, but as a baseline those are some impressive numbers for what some might consider a toy. It might not entirely erase the need for more serious cardio, especially if you are in shape, but it provides another tool in the battle of the bulge—better yet one that can be used at any time of day with a limited amount of equipment.
I’m just starting to discover the benefits of VR as an exercise device, but if the VR Health Institute is anything to go by, the future is bright. As I mentioned in my PSVR Experiences article there are plenty of traditional games that are a blast to play on the device, but it is also home to a host of experiences that might provide a little more than just the fun you are looking for. Considering you can get the PlayStation 4 (on its own a great value for gaming), the headset, and two move controllers for somewhere south of $550 means that this could be a cheap and efficient alternative to an elliptical or treadmill for an inside exercise device.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get sweaty as I wildly swing imaginary lightsabers and my family looks on bemused.