Findings: Virtual jogging good for mind

April 25, 2003

Virtual reality technology could make exercising a much more pleasurable experience, according to researchers. Previous findings have shown that the feel-good factor people experience from exercising is more strongly related to their belief that they are doing something that is good for them than it is to any real fitness gain, writes Natasha Gilbert.

In a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behaviour, Thomas Plante and his colleagues from the department of psychology at Santa Clara University in California, in the US, found that virtual reality experiences can enhance these psychological benefits - lowering depression, anxiety and stress.

"Virtual reality technology combined with exercise gives an extra boost to people's mood," Professor Plante told The THES.

The researchers assigned 88 university staff one of three 30-minute exercise tasks - cycling on a stationary bike, playing a virtual reality bicycle game or an interactive experience, or both. The report states that the combination of virtual reality and exercise heightened energy and relaxation and reduced tension to a greater extent than the virtual-reality experience or exercise alone.

In a different experiment, Professor Plante found little difference between the mood-enhancing benefits of exercise in a real open environment and a similar virtual-reality experience combined with indoor activity.

According to the present study, females experienced more long-lasting psychological rewards than did males. The researchers suggest that since males tend to play more video games, the graphics used in the study may not have been advanced enough to capture their attention.

Professor Plante said that because perception can positively affect health, virtual reality - technology's answer to an alternate state of consciousness - offers a means to improve psychological wellbeing.

He claimed that through virtual exercise experiences people who were injured or disabled might be able to reap the psychological rewards without having to physically work out.

"Those who live in harsh weather conditions and can't get out to exercise could benefit," he added. Professor Plante will be in Britain later this year to conduct further experiments.

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