Understanding the Effects of VR Exercise

Posted by Lloyd on February 01, 2012

To understand the effects of VR exercise, both the physiological and psychological responses are important. In these studies, even though subjects were working at the same perceived effort, they worked at a higher exercise intensity on the VR machines than on the non-VR machines. Psychologists describe this phenomenon as dissociation, whereby the subjects’ attentional focus is shifted away from internal cues of how hard they feel they are working. Because exercisers are working at a higher intensity, they should logically experience greater improvements in aerobic capacity and body composition if they regularly use VR machines.

A number of studies that have investigated attentional focus have reported that when external stimuli are present during exercise, subjects exercise either for a longer duration or at a higher intensity level than when no external stimuli are present. In a study by Pennebaker and Lightner,5 subjects were asked to run 1,800 meters at a self-selected pace on an outdoor, wooded track, as well as indoors on a treadmill. While no significant differences were reported in rate of perceived exercise (RPE) values, subjects ran 51 seconds faster on the outdoor course.

In another study, Ceci and Hassmen2 assessed the self-regulation of exercise intensity using an outdoor course and an indoor treadmill. Subjects were asked to replicate RPE values of 11, 13 and 15 while running under both conditions. When comparing running velocity, heart rates and lactic acid values between conditions, all of the physiological responses were higher for the outdoor condition, which was attributed to an external attention focus.

Psychologically, the simple concept of enjoyment often determines whether someone sticks to an exercise program. In the VR studies, results of follow-up questionnaires showed that subjects unanimously preferred the VR machines to the non-VR machines.

They also expressed greater enjoyment with the interactive nature of the VR equipment, and found that being distracted during exercise made the exercise feel less tiring and the time pass more quickly.

These findings agree with a study by Boutcher and Trenske who observed greater feelings of enjoyment in subjects who listened to music while exercising.

1 Harte and Eifert also found that exercise enjoyment rose significantly as external stimulation increased external attention focus.

2 Subjects also felt less anxious, less depressed, less angry and hostile, and more invigorated following an outdoor run than when running indoors. Hormonal markers of stress (norepinephrine and cortisol) were also significantly lower following the outdoor run.

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