Virtual reality helps people stay fit through lockdown

30th March 2021
Alex Lynn

People who use virtual reality headsets as a way of passing the time during lockdown are exercising more vigorously and feeling better about life. A new study, led by the University of Portsmouth, examined the use of VR technology in adults of all ages from around the world.

It is one of the first to investigate the impact of VR during lockdown, and is published in the journal Health and Technology. The results were clear: Those who use VR headsets as a way of passing time during lockdown were using the headsets for much more than playing games. They were using the device to exercise, meditate, socialise and watch films.

Lead author, Dr Alessandro Siani, from the University’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “VR appears to have had a striking and positive impact on people’s mental and physical wellbeing during periods of forced lockdown. Participants reported that ‘exer-gaming’ using a VR headset resulted in considerably more vigorous physical activity than doing so using a traditional gaming console. The vast majority of them also said using VR had a beneficial effect on their mental health.”

The feel-good effect was so marked, Dr Siani suggests the technology could form part of the arsenal of tools and strategies used to improve users’ mental and physical health.

He said: “The pandemic has been a watershed in human history and has had a dramatic negative impact on people’s health and wellbeing. Lockdowns have affected people of all ages globally. The isolation and stress have brought a rise in the number of people reporting stress, depression, irritability, insomnia, fear, confusion, anger, frustration and boredom.

“At the same time, lockdowns have brought a huge cost to people’s physical fitness, with gyms closed and access to the outdoors strictly limited. Both the mental and physical tolls are  heavy  and won’t necessarily end when lockdowns lift. Governments around the world will soon have to address the mental health and physical wellbeing of citizens, if they aren’t already.”

The study examined VR use by 646 people from 47 countries at the height of the first lockdown, in late May and early June, 2020.

While most used their VR device most often for immersive gaming, they were also using it nearly as often to exercise, and were exercising more vigorously compared to those who had a games console without VR capability.

Previous research showed people who spent ten minutes a day watching a 3D 360-degree VR video felt less anxiety.

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