Despite VR’s principal reputation as a form of entertainment, it turns out that this technology has a lot of implications for your physical and mental health. While VR itself has been around for a long time now, it has never actually been so easily available or held such a potential to be widespread in its use.
Now, anyone with the money can set up a VR system and spend as much time as they want in it. The thing is, no one really knows what the health consequences of that could be. So in this section I’m going to discuss what we know about the negative health effects of VR – both the ones we know from the history of VR and potential new ones that could be a side effect of VR’s latest popularity and development.
This section is not mainly about the negative health consequences of VR, though. It might be surprising to hear, but the potential for VR to be good for our health is greater than its potential negative effects. So what I’ll mostly be talking about is not how bad VR can be for us, but how good it can be for us.
VR for a Better Body
It’s funny, given that VR lets us escape our reality, that it can actually make your real body improve its shape and function. VR is generally more active than simply sitting down in front of a PC. Even when your VR experience involves sitting down, you’re still moving in your seat, looking around and sitting up straight.
There are plenty of VR games and experiences that count as pretty intense exercise and I’ve covered quite a number of these apps in an article dedicated to VR and how it can improve exercise. It’s exciting to see how the VR industry is embracing the idea of VR for health and fitness. Some gyms are even installing VR-enabled equipment on a trial basis to see if it draws in people who would otherwise prefer gaming on a couch.
Mind Over Matter
It’s not just your body that can benefit from VR, but also your mind. Almost since the beginning of VR, psychologists have been interested in how it might be used to manipulate psychological constructs. VR has been used to treat depression and other mood disorders. It’s also been used extensively to treat anxiety, panic, and phobias.
From soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress to people who are deathly afraid of spiders, VR coupled with special psychological therapy techniques have been used to offer treatment and healing. You can find an article dedicated to how VR is used to treat phobias in this section. I personally think it’s a fascinating practice.
If you think that’s amazing, what about the idea that VR can actually be used to replace or augment pain killers? It sounds crazy, but more than a few researchers have already shown that VR can have a significant impact on how much pain we feel. Maybe next time you need surgery you’ll be prescribed some calming VR before and after the operation.
A Long Road Ahead
The relationship between virtual reality and our health is one we have only just begun to explore. As VR technology advances, who knows what else we’ll discover about the good and bad of this technology? Perhaps there will be a future where almost everyone stays fit by visiting a VR gym, or maybe some people will simply spend so much time in VR worlds that they wither away.
There’s a long road of research and discovery in front of us when it comes to this interesting intersection of two seemingly different areas. It’s just another example of how unpredictable disruptive technologies can be when they suddenly enter the mainstream.