Virtual Exercise in Medicine: A Proof of Concept in a Healthy Population

JMIR Form Res. 2024 Jan 22:8:e45637. doi: 10.2196/45637.


Background: Science is beginning to establish the benefits of the use of virtual reality (VR) in health care. This therapeutic approach may be an appropriate complementary treatment for some mental illnesses. It could prevent high levels of morbidity and improve the physical health of patients. For many years, the literature has shown the health benefits of physical exercise. Physical exercise in a VR environment may improve the management of mild to moderate mental health conditions. In this context, we developed a virtual environment combined with an ergocycle (the augmented physical training for isolated and confined environments [APTICE] system).

Objective: This study aims to investigate the impact of physical exercise in a VR environment.

Methods: A total of 14 healthy participants (11 men and 3 women; mean age 43.28, SD 10.60 years) undertook 15 minutes of immersive physical exercise using the system. Measures included mindfulness and immersion disposition, subjective perceptions of sensory information, user experience, and VR experience (ie, psychological state, flow, and presence).

Results: First, the APTICE system appears to be a useful tool because the user experience is positive (subscales in the AttrakDiff questionnaire: pragmatic quality=0.99; hedonic quality-stimulation=1.90; hedonic quality-identification=0.67; attractiveness=1.58). Second, the system can induce a positive psychological state (negative emotion, P=.06) and an experience of flow and presence (P values ranging from <.001 to .04). Third, individual immersive and mindful disposition plays a role in the VR experience (P values ranging from <.02 to .04). Finally, our findings suggest that there is a link between the subjective perception of sensory information and the VR experience (P values ranging from <.02 to .04).

Conclusions: These results indicate that the device is well accepted with positive psychological and exteroceptive outcomes. Overall, the APTICE system could be a proof of concept to explore the benefits of virtual physical exercise in clinical medicine.

Keywords: countermeasures; mental health; physical activity; user experience; virtual reality.