Virtual reality could offer a mode of exercise that elicits lower perceived exertion, study finds

Working out and playing video games are often seen as polar opposite activities, but virtual exercise has become increasingly common in recent years. A study published in Frontiers in Rehabilitation Sciences shows that virtual exercise may have the potential to be especially beneficial for individual’s health by making people exert more energy than they believe they are while participating in it.

Most of Americans don’t participate in the recommended amount of exercise, which can be detrimental to their health. A lack of physical movement can be contributed to by many factors, including the prevalence of TV and video games, which typically require the individual to sit down in one place without moving.

An alternative to this that has gained popularity in recent years is virtual exercise, or video games in which the players movements make things happen in the game, turning video games from a passive to an active activity. This has positive implications for fitness and health for people who don’t like the typical gym experience. This study seeks to explore how players understand their own exertion when playing a virtual reality game.

Trenton H. Stewart and colleagues used 32 college students whose ages ranged from 18 to 39 years old to serve as the sample for this study. 16 participants were male, and 16 participants were female. Participants were excluded if they had a history of motion sickness, getting sick from virtual reality, or medications that affect metabolic functioning. Participants completed three 45-minute visits to participate in this study.

The participants first visited the exercise physiology lab and were informed of the procedures and completed a measure on their video game playing and enjoyment of traditional exercise. Height, weight, and body composition were recorded. Next, participants completed a self-paced exercise test that caused cardiorespiratory stress followed by being familiar with the technology and equipment they would be using.

Participants completed 5-minute sessions with each of the 3 games (Fruit Ninja VR, Beat Saber, and Holopoint) and then scheduled their subsequent appointments. Their two experimental sessions occurred in different exercise locations (one in the gym, one in the lab) and were required to be at least 24 hours apart.

Participants played 10 minutes of each game with 5 minutes of rest between them. They rated their enjoyment and perceived exertion. Oxygen consumption and heart rate were measured.

Results showed that actual physical exertion levels were higher than perceived exertion levels for participants. This means that while playing exercise video games, participants underestimated how much exercise they were undergoing, which has very positive implications for the benefits of this type of game on the individual’s physical health.

This effect was seen for all 3 of the games played. Between the lab setting and the gym setting, participants reported higher levels of perceived exertion in the gym, but similar levels of enjoyment in both locations. Participants reported the most physically intense game as being the most enjoyable. Exercise intensity is usually negatively correlated with enjoyment, so this shows another potential benefit of this form of working out.

This study took strides into understanding how virtual exercise could be a potential tool to encourage physical activity in an enjoyable way. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that the wires attached to participants to use the machinery could have limited their movement and therefore their physical activity levels.

Additionally, the study utilized only college students in California and had a small sample size; future research could expand the diversity of the participant pool to boost generalizability.

Th study, “Actual vs perceived exertion during active virtual reality game exercise”, was authored by Trenton H. Stewart, Kirsten Villaneuva, Amanda Hahn, Julissa Ortiz-Delatorre, Chandler Wolf, Randy Nguyen, Nicole D. Bolter, Marialice Kern, and James R. Bagley.

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