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Virtual Reality Could Lead to a Very Real Work Out


Fitness fads come in and out of style – remember tae bo and jazzercise? Well, one of the  latest workout trends is immersive technology. It may sound cool, but do these new technologies actually help us work out better? Gilda Di Carli went to a new exercise studio where riders cycle in front of an IMAX screen to find out. 


Imagine riding your bike through the solar system. That’s Imax Shift’s sales pitch.


It’s a new cycle studio that opened its first classes to the public in Dumbo this week [THURSDAY]. Classes cost about 30 bucks each – around the same as soul cycle. But will it work on someone who’s not that into cardio?

DI CARLI: Do you know how to do this?

MOHANANI: No! As I said no cardio for me. So…How do I bike?


MOHANANI: I’ll ask for help.


Sahil Mohanani looks like he belongs in a high-tech exercise studio in Brooklyn – he’s 21 with a muscle shirt and a handlebar mustache. He’s definitely built but cardio? He’s not a fan. Imax Shift could be what he needs.

MOHANANI 2: So this is something that should motivate me. If it doesn’t then ok we know that we have a problem. [0:06]


Mohanani’s motivation is about to be put to the test: he’s going to try interval training – meaning short bursts of high-intensity cardio but this time– in front of a giant IMAX screen.

AMBI velcro [0:03] ?


Mohanani puts on his spin shoes and he’s ready to ride. He walks into a large dark room. Just like going to the movies but instead of seats, there are rows of stationary bikes.

ALEXANDER: Everybody, once again. Your consoles are on. Your hands are in first position….  [0:05] Good!


Instructor Jesse Alexander eases the class of 12 riders into a fast paced warm-up.

There’s no plot to the movie on the screen, but soon enough, Mohanani is flying over the edge of a cliff and cycling past silver asteroids in outer space.

DI CARLI: Do you feel like you’re there?

MOHANANI: At times, not yet. There were times when I did feel like I’m biking through the air. [0:11]


That sensation is what 3,000 health clubs worldwide are going for. According to International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, all of them are  incorporating some form of virtual exercise. We’re talking virtual reality on treadmills, stationary bikes, and even in Zumba Classes. **When it comes to fitness – This is the gold rush for immersive technology.

But back at the gym, Bring ambi back here Mohanani is cycling super fast…too fast. And we’re only 5 minutes into class. He is struggling.

MOHANANI: panting sound

ALEXANDER: As fast as you can. We scale back in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. So everybody breathe. [0:16]


Carol Garber teaches movement sciences at Teachers College. She says new fitness technology is new so people are learning as they go. Like with wearables, like the fitbit, or other devices that count steps and calories -(she says) they can lead to unhealthy habits.

GARBER 1: They can often make people go too hard, and potentially put themselves at risk. If they’re over-exercising. [0:09]


She says wearables can even lead to heart problems.  And …there’s another issue …

GARBER 2: For many people, it seems that they’re becoming addicted to their devices. [0:05]


Garber says technology can be used as a tool. It can help motivate people to exercise and track their fitness goals but, it could also turn out to set up unrealistic expectations and cause a lot of anxiety.

GARBER 3: What we don’t really know right now is whether there could be adverse effects. [0:06]

MEHTA: That’s the irony that such massive amounts of money are going in to people using this, but hardly anything at all goes on into just checking- is this good? [0:12] Oh god he sounds like he’s talking through a turtleneck!!!!  Do you have straight up phone tape from him? Probably better to use if so.


That’s Dr. Mayank Mehta. He’s leading one of the first studies at UCLA Neurophysics Lab to see how virtual reality affects the brain. But when it comes to funding, he says, these studies are not a huge priority for the industry.

But there’s one initial finding we do know. Mehta did a study in which rats were hooked up to VR headsets. He says The rat’s brain on virtual reality looked like the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient – it wasn’t able to create memories or make maps in space.

MEHTA 1: 60% of these space-mapping neurons shut down in virtual reality- which is a whopping effect. [0:09]

DI CARLI 14: And for those cells that were active-


Their maps were thoroughly messed up. They did not look like a map at all. They

looked like some spaghetti. [0:06]


Scientists don’t know exactly what this means yet. But when I asked if Mehta would be keen on trying out the equipment himself-

MEHTA 3: Uhhh, I doubt it. [0:02] **Too short


Mehta says he prefers exercising in the open. It’s more fun. And he’s not sure how he feels about strapping himself into something he doesn’t fully understand. But while he continues to look at the effects of virtual reality on our brains, one thing is clear – the sales pitch for new fitness tech is working. Mohanani, our workout guinea pig- the one who’s not a fan of cardio- he says he’s pumped to try another class.

Kicker: Everybody in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Yeah! Whoo.

DI CARLI 17:  And maybe exercise will be easier for all of us in virtual reality.

Gilda Di Carli, Columbia Radio News.


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