14. New Research Shows that Virtual Reality can Make Exercise a More Positive Experience for Adults and Children

A male using a Virtual Reality Headset during work-out on an exercise bike.
The television to the right shows the audience what he is seeing.
Virtual Reality, also referred to as VR for short, is a computer-generated environment in which users can experience a surreal and interactive environment. VR can be experienced through a variety of special electronic equipment. One example is through a helmet with a screen inside. Another example is a pair of gloves with special sensors. Although VR has been around since the 1950’s, it has come a long way. It has technologically advanced in a number of ways, including what it can be used for. At first, the functions of VR were for entertainment purposes. These purposes could be for watching movies or playing games. More recently it has been looked into for medical implications, specifically assisting people with negative feelings during exercise.  

Negative Feelings Towards Exercise is Common for Many People

Many people associate exercising with feelings of discomfort during exercise and soreness afterwards. These negative feelings are most likely the reason people are not getting an adequate amount of exercise. Another reason could be the excuses that people make. Does "I don't have time" or "I don't have the motivation" sound familiar? These excuses seem to be the most common. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of the United States Population is not meeting the federal governments' physical activity standard. The federal government recommends that everyone should aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week. Although this is just a general standard, everyone should aim for some form of exercise over the course of their lives.

Virtual Reality Has Been Shown to Help People Overcome Negative Feelings During Exercise 

In a recent study, researchers experimented with virtual reality conditions versus non virtual reality conditions. They wanted to test if these two conditions would have any effect on how overweight children and normal weight children perceive negative bodily sensations. The methods of the study included children aged 10-15 who would walk on a treadmill for a total of six minutes. They would do this twice, once with virtual reality and once without. During the exercise the children were assessed using a scale that measured how much they focused on their external environment versus their bodily sensations. The data graphic below shows the data collected in the study.

*ASA represents Attentional Strategies Assessment which measured the frequency of attentional focus. 

As expected, overweight children felt a significant difference when placed in the virtual reality environment. Although there was a difference in the way normal weight children felt, it was not as significant, as shown in the data graphic above. Another study conducted on adults showed that they enjoyed their work out more when it was coupled with virtual reality. In this study they were using virtual reality exercise bikes, as pictured in the first paragraph.

Virtual Reality has Potential to Address the Growing Problem of Obesity in Children and Adults

The condition of being overweight or grossly fat is defined as being obese. Obesity can be determined using the Body Mass Index (BMI) which takes into account height and weight in order to determine if a person is underweight, healthy-weight, overweight or obese. The simplified problems is that Americans are having too much to eat with too little exercise. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) more than 35 percent of US adults are obese or overweight. Obesity and being overweight affects 32 percents of all children and adolescents. This number has more than tripled since the last generation. 

The studies previous support that Virtual Reality can help with this problem by making exercise more enjoyable. If exercise becomes more enjoyable for people in general, there is a higher chance that they will want to exercise. There is one problem though; accessibility to virtual reality equipment can be difficult for a number of reasons. This short clip shows Heyam Abadir, a student at the University of Maryland-College Park, giving her opinion on virtual reality and exercise.

Technological Companies Want to Make Virtual Reality Accessible and Beneficial for All

There are various types of virtual reality equipment however some of their prices are very high. For example the Oculus Rift (virtual reality gaming headset) costs about $600 and the HTC Vive (also a virtual reality gaming headset) costs about $800. Not only do you have to buy these headsets, you also have to buy a computer that is compatible with those headsets. For instance, Apple Macintosh computers will not work with these headsets. They require a brand new high-end desktop computer specifically created for gaming. The computers start at $1000. Overall the total cost could potentially be around $1600-$2500. 

Some tech companies such as Samsung and Fulldive have lowered their prices to make virtual reality more accessible. Samsung has lowered the price of their headset from around $100 to about $50. Fulldive is more focused on making virtual reality more accessible to third world countries. They have engineered virtual reality to be accessible on a mobile device through an application (app). Their dream is to create a bridge that will close the nearly 10 year technological advancement discrepancy between first and third world countries. 

Overall, Virtual Reality is becoming more accessible and this can allow for people with weight problems to find a new and innovating way to exercise and lead a healthier lifestyle. 


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