New research finds that virtual reality (VR) can help persons with limited mobility improve mental well-being through virtual training exercises.
Virtual reality (VR) tools continue to reshape how we respond to mental health challenges.
Researchers at Tohoku University’s Smart Aging Research Center (SARC) have found that training in a virtual reality simulation can reduce psychosocial stress response and anxiety levels—producing a similar effect on the mind as one would experience after physical training.
“Psychosocial stress represents the stress experienced in frequent social situations such as social judgment, rejection, and when our performances get evaluated,” describes Dalila Burin, assistant professor at Tohoku University and the first author of the study.
“This kind of virtual training represents a new frontier, especially in countries like Japan, where high performance demands and an aging population exist.”
Training in an immersive virtual reality (IVR) environment in a first-person perspective can induce an ‘illusion of ownership and agency’, implying that people training in VR are alluded into believing they are in control of the virtual avatar.
In a previous study, researchers measured the physiological, cognitive and behavioural reactions of 26 young, healthy adults as they observed a virtual avatar running a course for 30 minutes from a first-person perspective—while another set of 26 adults observed the avatar running from a third-person perspective.
The follow-up study observed the cognitive and behavioural markers of healthy elderly participants in a similar setting in short 20-minute sessions over the course of 6 weeks.
The results indicated a decrease in the psychosocial stress response of the participants, accompanied by reduced levels of anxiety.
While the relationship between exercise and physical training with stress reduction has been well described in research studies, the varsity’s attempt to evidence comparable effects can be achieved through virtual training is the first of its kind.
The findings of the study have been recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Individuals with reduced mobility owing to physiological conditions—such as cardiovascular disease, paraplegia, and hospitalized patients—stand to benefit greatly through VR training.
In the near future, working out might be as simple as putting on a headset.