Wearing a virtual reality (VR) headset while exercising can reduce pain and increase how long someone can sustain an activity, researchers have found.
A study led by PhD candidate Maria Matsangidou at the University of Kent set out to determine how using VR while exercising could affect performance by measuring criteria such as heart rate, pain intensity and time to exhaustion.
The research team monitored 80 individuals performing an isometric bicep curl set at 20% of the maximum weight they could lift, which they were then asked to hold for as long as possible.
The participants did the lift and hold inside a room that had a chair, a table and yoga mat on the floor, with half of the group also wearing a VR headset, including a visual representation of an arm and the weight.
According to the researchers, the results showed a clear reduction in perception of pain and effort when using VR technology.
After one minute, the VR group reported a pain intensity that was 10% lower than the non-VR group. What’s more, the time to exhaustion for the VR group was around two minutes longer than for those doing conventional exercise, and the VR group registered a lower heart rate than the non-VR group.
The improvements shown by the VR group suggest that it could be a possible way to encourage less-active people to exercise by reducing the perceived pain that exercise can cause and improving performance, the University of Kent concluded.
“It is clear from the data gathered that the use of VR technology can improve performance during exercise on a number of criteria,” Matsangidou said. “This could have major implications for exercise regimes for everyone, from occasional gym users to professional athletes.”
The findings have been published in the journal Psychology Sports and Exercise.