Virtual Reality (VR) Based Fitness Programs

Virtual reality (VR) based fitness (exercise) programs have become quite a big deal recently, especially as these VR programs become very advanced.

Key takeaways:
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    Virtual reality is a computer-generated environment in which we use an avatar: a computer-generated representation of ourselves.
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    With a specific computer or game console, the avatar can undergo activities in which we use our upper extremities.
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    Virtual reality exercise programs are ideal for persons with mobility issues, especially the elderly.
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    Studies have shown that virtual reality exercise programs can work just as well as traditional exercising.

Users have found that not only are these programs fun, like playing a game, but they also provide the health benefits of exercise. In addition, they are accommodating for people with mobility issues who cannot use other means to exercise. To start a virtual reality fitness program, you only need a game console and a compatible VR headset.

What is virtual reality? What is an avatar?

Virtual reality is a reality created in the virtual world or computer-generated environment. In the virtual world, we use an avatar, the computer's version of ourselves in the computer-generated three-dimensional environment. Many times, the avatar graphically represents the user’s persona and character. Furthermore, in VR programs, the avatar's extremities move with the user's extremities. The avatars often don't have legs since the arms are the avatar's main extremities used to accomplish the tasks. Some new programs use the legs; however, most don't involve the use of the legs. In the virtually created computer world, avatars from other users can also be present, making the game even more enjoyable.

What are the benefits of exercising?

The benefits of exercise are divided into two categories, physiological and psychological, including the following:

Physiological benefits. Improved functioning of the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels); maintaining a more desirable weight; increased strength, flexibility, and ability to move; decreased risk of cancer; improved thickness of the bone, called bone mineral density; decreased risk of developing type II diabetes.

Psychological effects. Reduces anxiety; improves mood leading to decreased depression; improves thinking and brain function; helps with self-esteem; better alertness.

What are the two different types of exercise?

  • Aerobic exercise uses oxygen. It involves the heart and lungs, called cardio-pulmonary. Types of aerobic exercise include running, jogging, walking, cycling, elliptical, rowing, swimming, and others. Continuous aerobic exercise leads to the heart and lungs working more efficiently.
  • Anaerobic exercise involves using the muscles for resistance training. Examples include using weights or resistance bands, Pilates, yoga, and others.

The good news for those who want to try a virtual reality exercise program is that it provides both aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

What exactly happens in a virtual reality fitness program?

There are currently numerous virtual reality programs designed for fitness. Without endorsing any specific programs, there is one where the user has two swords and has to slice fruit thrown at them from all directions. In another game, the user has a lightsaber (a special Star Wars series blade) and slices at different incoming shapes. The user can perform Pilates, yoga, or boxing in other programs.

As mentioned above, some programs require only the upper extremities, while others require the use of the upper and lower extremities.

Virtual reality exercise programs for people with mobility issues?

Mobility is the ability to move from one position or place to another, including:

  • Walking and moving around the house.
  • Getting in and out of chairs.
  • Getting in and out of bed.

These mobility issues involve the use of the lower extremities. In the past, exercise for people with mobility issues consisted of swimming or using an arm exercise machine. With swimming, issues are getting into and out of the pool, while the arm exercise machines can be monotonous. Virtual reality programs solve these issues since they don't require a complex setup, and they keep the user's attention. In addition, virtual reality equipment takes up very little space, especially when compared to exercise equipment and home gyms.

Do virtual reality programs actually work?

Yes, they do work, especially in rehabilitative programs. One detailed study reviewed the literature and found positive results in virtual reality (VR)-based exercise on different physiological, psychological, and rehabilitative outcomes. Another study showed that VR fitness programs significantly improved community-dwelling older adults' functioning, especially when added to conventional physiotherapy management.

According to the United States Census Bureau, 16.9% of the 2020 population was 65 and older, a more significant percentage than ever before. In addition, with the advent of new medical devices and treatments, that percentage has been growing yearly. With these trends, it's great that we also have the technology developed for exercising in this population.

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