Virtual reality (VR) might help athletes and others perform better on the track, field, court or weight room by reducing the perceived pain associated with the given activity.
Researchers from the University of Kent have found that VR tools can aid in performance during exercise in a number of factors, including heart rate, pain intensity, perceived exhaustion, time to exhaustion and private body consciousness, one’s awareness of internal body sensations.
“It is clear from the data gathered that the use of VR technology can improve performance during exercise on a number of criteria,” lead researcher Maria Matsangidou, a PhD candidate, said in a statement. “This could have major implications for exercise regimes for everyone, from occasional gym users to professional athletes.”
The researchers monitored 80 participants performing an isometric bicep curl set at 20 percent of the maximum weight they could lift. Each volunteer was asked to hold the weight for as long as they possibly could.
A control group performed the exercises in a room with a chair, table and yoga mat, while a second group wore a VR headset and saw the same environment, including a visual representation of an arm and the weight. At the end of the exercise, the volunteers filled out a questionnaire where they described their feelings of pain and fatigue.
While both groups performed the same exercise, the VR group reported a pain intensity 10 percent lower than the control group after one minute. The time to exhaustion was also about two minutes longer for the VR group than it was for the control group and the VR group had a lower heart rate of three beats per minute than the group performing conventional exercises.
Previous research found that individuals with a high private body consciousness are generally able to better understand their body and perceive higher pain when exercising. In the current study, the researchers found that virtual reality tools are effective in reducing perceived pain without lowering the private body consciousness.
The study results could point to VR as a way to encourage less active people to exercise more by reducing the perceived pain associated with exercise, while ultimately improving performance regardless of private body consciousness.
The study was published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise.