A new study suggests that virtual reality exercise may be able to improve mental well-being for the elderly, even if they are unable to participate in physical activity.
Researchers from Tohoku University’s Smart-Aging Research Center (IDAC) published their findings in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on May 23, 2022.
The original study – with young participants
In a prior study, the researchers discovered that when young people viewed a moving virtual body presented from the first-person perspective, this caused physiological changes that were similar in nature to those of actual physical exercise.
Despite the participants’ stillness, heart rates changed in time with the virtual motions. As a result, much like after actual physical activity, there were immediate cognitive and neurological advantages.
The new study – with elderly participants
In this study, the researchers worked with health elderly participants.
For 30 minutes, the avatar moved at 6.4 km/h. Salivary alpha-amylase measurement, a critical biomarker reflecting the levels of neuroendocrine stress, was used to produce and evaluate the psychosocial stress response before and after the virtual training. They also provided a subjective anxiety questionnaire.
After 20-minute sessions twice a week for six weeks, the same advantages were also discovered in a follow-up investigation on the older adults.
This could be a huge breakthrough for the elderly population, many of whom face limitations when it comes to participating in physical activity.
A positive impact on psychosocial stress
Psychosocial stress is the stress that comes from our interactions with other people. It is most commonly caused by events such as arguments and difficult conversations. However, people can also suffer from such stress when they feel that they are being observed, judged, or evaluated by others.
The study found that the elderly participants who used virtual reality exercise showed a markedly decreased psychosocial stress response and lower levels of anxiety after training virtually than they did after exercising in the real world.
This is a significant finding, as it suggests that virtual reality exercise can have additional positive impacts on mental well-being, especially for people who are very self-conscious or who struggle with social anxiety.
“Psychosocial stress represents the stress experienced in frequent social situations such as social judgment, rejection, and when our performances get evaluated. While a moderate amount of exposure to stress might be beneficial, repeated and increased exposure can be detrimental to our health. This kind of virtual training represents a new frontier, especially in countries like Japan, where high performance demands and an aging population exist.”Professor Dalila Burin
Final thoughts on virtual reality exercise
This study provides valuable insight into the potential benefits of virtual reality exercise, with very positive ramifications for the elderly and all those with mobility issues.
Exciting times lie ahead in the world of virtual reality, and its potential applications seem limitless. Who knows what other amazing discoveries await us?