How The Oculus Quest, Supernatural VR And Apple Watch Helped Me Recover From Covid-19

As many of you may already know, I managed to contract Covid-19 in early March of this year and was sick for the good part of 3 weeks, including a 9-day hospitalization. During this hospitalization I managed to keep myself sane with the support of my friends and family and with the help of my Samsung Note10 and 4G connection, which I covered in a previous article. Once I got out of the hospital, though, I realized something significant had happened to my body. Today I want to provide a follow up on previous article, and share some of the ways technology, specifically VR, aided in my recovery.

The author wearing the Oculus Quest VR headset for a workout.
 ANSHEL SAG

The damage

First, upon getting home I discovered I had lost about 20 lbs. while sick, as well as a significant amount of muscle. So much muscle, in fact, that I was struggling to walk and lift things for days. Prior to Covid-19 I could easily do 20-30 pushups, but after Covid-19 I struggled to even do 10. However, the lack of muscle was not actually the most concerning side effect. More worrisome was what was going on with my heart.

One of the major reasons I went to the hospital after I got sick was that my heart rate, while laying in bed, was north of 100 bpm, and my standing heart rate was 145. I had severe tachycardia, which was probably due to a combination of a lack of oxygen and my anxiety that I was on my deathbed. I had many of the usual Covid symptoms, including a harsh dry cough, labored breathing and a 103.3 degree fever, for almost 2 weeks. So, naturally, when my Apple watch showed that my heart was at 115 while laying in bed, I became convinced that if the pneumonia didn’t kill me, the impending heart attack would.

So, at the advice of many people, I went to the hospital. Turns out, I had a major heart problem as a result of Covid-19. While my resting heart rate before Covid-19 was in the low 70s, while I was sick with Covid-19 it was in the mid 90s. At my sickest, my average heart rate according to my Apple Watch (while mostly laying in bed) was 106—a huge red flag. The potential for damage to the heart is one of the most concerning effects of Covid-19—when I came out of the hospital on March 31st, I was determined to rebuild myself.

The beginning of the recovery

By the time I came out of the hospital the whole world was in lockdown already and I didn’t have many options for recovery. So, I leaned on what I had available to me. I started trying to do pushups and light VR workouts using music rhythm apps like Beat Saber and Audica. I was careful to wear my Apple watch the entire time to monitor my heart rate and ensure that it did not go too high. After I played with some Beat Saber and Audica, I graduated to BoxVR (a boxing exercise app) and Pistol Whip (a fast-paced music shooter) which were very strenuous but fun to use. Eventually, though, I found myself hopping from app to app and getting bored of them quickly.

In the beginning, my heart rate would at times hit 170, at which point I would stop working out just to be safe. However, I knew that I had to exercise and in order to get my heart working properly again. So, I combined 2 VR workouts a day with a daily walk around my neighborhood. I waited 10 days after my discharge to venture outside, in order to prevent getting anyone else sick, and when I did, I still wore a mask.

Towards the end of April, an interesting new VR workout app called Supernatural came out for the Oculus Quest. The app promised to combine VR and exercise in a way that nobody else had before. Naturally, I was intrigued since my local gym was closed and everyone including myself was in isolation. I knew that workouts were a compelling use case for VR, and was impressed by the Black Box VR  gym I tried in San Francisco. Black Box VR is a purpose-built, VR-only gym. At the facility, users can access multiple competitive VR experiences for an exciting, quality workout. That said, with the ongoing pandemic, physical gyms were out of the question. I decided to give Supernatural a shot, with the hope that it would at least come close to replicating the fun of the Black Box VR experience if not surpass it.

Supernatural VR

I got off to a rough start with Supernatural. I was still very much not recovered from Covid-19, and my heart rates were sky high. I was absolutely wiped out after the workouts. Supernatural gave me a full body workout unlike any of the other solutions I’ve tried, with exercises that helped me rebuild my leg, arm, shoulder and core muscles. It features arm swinging exercises similar to those of Beat Saber but with more range of motion. Additionally, Supernatural features lunging and squatting drills, which really work out the legs. Supernatural also features more diverse music choices than other solutions I’ve tried. Each workouts is themed around a certain type of musical genre and ranked on three levels of intensity.

The Supernatural workout app can be paired with an Apple Watch to measure progress towards health goals.
 ANSHEL SAG

One of my favorite features of Supernatural is that it can be paired with an Apple Watch to track your progress. And I have made progress, thanks to Supernatural. At this point I can finish virtually any workout with a much lower heart rate than when I started using the app and without being tired at the end. Furthermore, I’m  able to finish the workout with Platinum, Double Platinum or Triple Platinum—a ranking system that calculates a composite score based on your power, accuracy and squatting. The diverse mix of music on Supernatural helped me stay engaged with the exercises. I noticed that I performed even better with music that I like, so I was glad to see that Supernatural has a Spotify request list for songs (which I contributed to heavily). There’s also a competitive community angle—you can see how your friends on the platform are doing, and hold friendly competitions with one another based on weekly points. More than once, I found that the social aspect motivated me to add an extra workout or two in.

Supernatural on the Oculus Quest played a huge role in my recovery. Between that and eating healthy, I was able to rebuild my heart and muscle and regain a lot of the weight I lost due to Covid-19. In fact, after working out almost every day for almost the last 3 months, my heart is now stronger than it was before Covid-19.

The Author, Anshel Sag, wearing his Oculus Quest before another Supernatural VR workout
 ANSHEL SAG

The Oculus Quest isn’t quite ideal for VR fitness quite yet—in my opinion, the weight of the device needs to be better balanced. That said, I figured out some tricks to making Supernatural a better workout experience. First, I use a headband to bare the brunt of the headset’s pressure on my forehead and to stop sweat from getting into the headset. Supernatural also provides a gasket/cover to protect the headset from your sweat and to make it easier to wipe down after a workout. Also, I highly recommend you get some kind of fan to cool yourself down and help to reduce fogging and overall sweatiness. I personally bought a gigantic RYOBI Aircannon, which does an impeccable job.

Wrapping up

My episode with Covid-19 was a painful and scary experience and I do not wish it upon anyone (please wear a mask). But I want people to know that with the right tools and information it is possible to make a full recovery. The key is being able to identify the problem with data and track it as you recover. This is not medical advice, just a reflection on my experience. I am deeply passionate about the healthcare implications for VR and now I am a living example of the potential. I got my clean bill of health from my doctor earlier this month, including significant blood work and chest x-ray results. Thanks to Supernatural, I can say confidently that the worst is behind me. I hope others can benefit from the healing power of VR as well.