Friday, April 16, 2021

Patricia Farrell's COLUMN

The World of Zoom and Virtual Reality’s Hidden Health Benefits

The inability to get outdoors and realize the benefits of being in the natural environment doesn’t mean VR or Zoom can’t be a good, healthy substitute.

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In virtual reality, we’re placing the viewer inside a moment or a story… made possible by sound and visual technology that’s actually tricking the brain into believing it’s somewhere else. — Chris Milk

A walk in a forest (forest bathing therapy), a park, or an open field are all good for your physical and mental health. It is sometimes referred to as the “awe boost” and is related to decreasing the stress hormone cortisol levels.

The forest bathing walks have become so popular not because of their ability to free us from our current environment, but the medical community recommends them. In fact, it is now possible to schedule yourself for a Zoom virtual walk.

These virtual walks increase access to this health benefit to those with disabilities, inability to access a forest, or want to realize the advantages from the comfort of their home or office. You can walk a forest, a seashore or a mountain range and your body will thank you for it.

Instead of watching your computer screen or TV, you may view some walks on a VR platform. One definite new advantage in one manufacturer’s VR sets, not intended for the health-market segment, is adding touch in addition to the sounds and visual effects. This addition is provided by sensors that will mimic the crunch of sand underfoot. For now, the company appears to be sticking with gaming, but new markets await their entry.

The benefits of nature in any format has been shown in pain management, too. In fact, “…large body of research is documenting the positive impacts of nature on human flourishing — our social, psychological, and emotional life. Over 100 studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. In particular, viewing nature seems to be inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of position emotions and calming our nervous systems. These, in turn, help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, and resilience.

Copyright: Narong Rotjanaporn

What You Need to Save the Walks

Once you find a walk you enjoy and want to repeat the experience, you’ll want to save it. A virtual reality headset would be a great piece of computer equipment to have, but the prices are not what I would call reasonable.

Plus, the software is primarily for gaming or selling travel packages. For your use, a small expenditure on a thumb drive (aka flash drive) or any small external drive will do fine.

Not all walks will offer a free download, so check to see if that’s possible. They may have posted it elsewhere for download.

My advice? Buy as much storage space as you can afford because some walks (in terms of MBs) will require a lot of memory. The more MBs, the easier it is to keep all your walks on one drive.

Although the major players in computer accessories make these drives, no-name varieties are available, as well. Cost is a factor here. But there is a caveat. Well-known companies will provide a guarantee, and they will remain in business. The cheaper no-name brands may not ensure a replacement if the drive fails. Yes, these drives can fail.

The external, small drives can be bought in various configurations up to terabytes and, depending on what you want to save, can give you more than gigabytes of space. Never underestimate your need for more storage.

Remember, not all walks may offer the ability to download them from their site. But, if they are on Youtube, there is software to copy it for fair use on your drive.

Free programs are available but watch how they describe them. Another handy program, Snagit, will copy any video (they offer a free trial program) that comes up on your computer, but you don’t need it.

Download” doesn’t mean free; it only means you can download it. Using any software after a download is another question. They may require that you buy the software you’ve downloaded to keep using it. Most versions of the programs are for either a PC or a Mac. I suggest a Google search for “free Youtube download software.”

Copyright: Alexander Koltyrin

A Listing of Walks

Entrepreneurs have noted that the travel business is down, and they have provided an attractive alternative — zoom walks. Whether used with an in-home bike or as you sit or stand, these walks take you to far-flung places you might never visit otherwise. Some use footage shot as a drone scanned the area, but it’s just as relaxing as a video of a walk on terra firma.

I did a quick search on Youtube.com, and it provided several virtual walks in nature, but you can select others.

These are not listed in any specific order, so don’t think the first are the ones I recommend over others.

The 21 Best Free Virtual Field Trips of 2021

12 Virtual Walking Trails Around the World That You Can Experience Right Now

Norway 4K — Scenic Relaxation Film with Calming Music (includes others)

Virtual Walk On The Beach — Sounds Of Sea Waves Breaking Onto Pebble Shore | Treadmill Scenery

Virtual Walk Through a Tropical Forest — 4K Virtual Hike with Nature Sounds

Walking In The Woods — 1 Hour Virtual Walk For Treadmill Workout Scenery — Peaceful Forest Hike

ALL Anguilla Beaches: Best Beaches in The World (4K Drone)

Photo by Hammer & Tusk

A Quick Review of the Science on Virtual Reality Walks

Virtual reality can be absorbing and relieve stress, but it can also help those with neurologic disorders such as multiple sclerosis. “Despite…limitations, the strengths of this trial include its novelty, its relatively large number of subjects, and its putative promise of providing important information on the effects of
VR training for cognitive-motor rehabilitation in pwMS (p
eople with MS).”

Creating virtual environments provided the individual’s brain and musculature with an opportunity for practice. These benefits from the virtual environment are retained
in the real world, according to this research.

Hospitals, nursing homes, and other support facilities may not provide access to health-promoting natural environments. Studies are now concluding that “…while contact with real-world nature is preferred, VR use can be an alternative in cases when in vivo contact with nature is not possible. There are many possibilities for the use of VR technology in psychiatric and medical care…” Therefore, VR may prove a wise “prescription.”

A large self-report study of 3,000 individuals in Tokyo had impressive results. “Our findings suggest that a regular dose of nature can contribute to the improvement of a wide range of mental health outcomes. With the recent escalation in the prevalence of mental health disorders and the possible negative impacts of the COVID‐19 pandemic on public mental health, our findings have major implications for policy, suggesting that urban nature has great potential to be used as a ‘nature‐based solution’ for improved public health.” The subjects in the study either visited green spaces or viewed them out a window.

Everyone can utilize the benefits of these virtual visits or walks, especially in times of increased stress. A health pick-me-up is as close as the click of a computer “on” button or our TV remote control.

PATIENT ADVISORY

Medika Life has provided this material for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your health care provider(s). We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy is not an endorsement by Medika Life

Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

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DR PATRICIA FARRELL

Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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