VR makes exercise more enjoyable and less tiring, study finds

[A new study comparing exercise combined with music, virtual reality, both, and neither, and measuring a variety of effects, provides more evidence for the benefits of presence. This story is from Forbes, where the original includes a second image; follow the link to the study for more details. –Matthew]

[Image: Credit: Photo by Amy E. Price/FilmMagic]

Virtual Reality Makes Exercise More Enjoyable And Less Tiring, Study Finds

Simon Chandler, Contributor
June 16, 2020

Virtual reality makes exercise more enjoyable and less difficult, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology.

Authored by researchers from Brunel University London and the universities of Exeter and Gloucestershire, the “Ready Exerciser One” study put 24 volunteers on VR-enabled exercise bikes. Rather than staring at the wall, these volunteers experienced themselves cycling through the French countryside, thanks to the VR headsets provided by Massachusetts-based developer VirZOOM.

The researchers found that experiencing VR with music raised the perceived enjoyment of cycling by 26.4%, as compared with a control condition involving no virtual reality or music.

Similarly, exercising in virtual reality (and with music) raised enjoyment by 17.5%, in contrast to simply listening to music on its own and exercising.

In particular, the researchers uncovered four positive effects of exercising while using virtual reality. All of these are likely to raise the hopes of anyone who’s ever been afraid to step on a treadmill or hop on an exercise bike.

Firstly, volunteers measured higher for “positive affective valence,” meaning they experienced more positive emotions and physical sensations. Secondly, they reported greater “perceived activation,” in that they felt more energetic and physically aroused when exercising. Thirdly, they had a greater number of “dissociative thoughts,” meaning they focused less on the strain or exertion of cycling, and more on the VR experience in which they were immersed.

Lastly, the use of VR and music resulted in greater overall exercise enjoyment, with participants reporting a keener sense of achievement and satisfaction.

As a whole, such results are highly promising, particularly at a time when more people are stuck at home and struggling to exercise.

“It was quite striking how the combination of virtual reality with music boosted exercise-related pleasure, compared with just music or control conditions,” says Prof. Costas Karageorghis from Brunel University. “Our findings show the abundant potential for the use of virtual reality combined with music to get people more physically active in their own homes.”

Encouragingly, the researchers say that the use of virtual reality increases enjoyment to the point where many people are likely to continue with an exercise plan, when they might otherwise have found excuses to give up.

“The exerciser’s mental bandwidth to process fatigue is reduced by the virtual world and soundscape provided by the immersive technology,” explains Dr Jonathan Bird from the University of Exeter Business School. “Participants appeared to thoroughly enjoy the virtual reality exercise, and enjoyment makes people more likely to stick to a routine.”

While the study is one of the first to substantiate claims that virtual reality can make exercise easier and more enjoyable, the technology underpinning it is on the market now. VR game developer VirZOOM already sells the kit used in the study, with its VZfit product compatible with the Oculus Quest and Oculus Go VR headsets.

What’s more, VirZOOM isn’t the only company working in the area of VR workouts. There are already a range of VR fitness apps and games available for Oculus headsets that put people through their paces, for example, such as Dance Central and BoxVR.

And with the coronavirus pandemic still keeping most of us at home more than we’d like to be, now may be the perfect time for virtual reality exercise to take off. The “Ready Exerciser One” research has certainly shown that it takes the pain out of home workouts.

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