Expert Column

Virtual Fitness: Revolutionizing Health and Wellness Through Immersive Exercise

Dr. Nurdiana Zainol Abidin
Published : 10 June 2024

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In recent years, the incorporation of virtual reality (VR) into fitness routines has gained significant traction. As technology continues to advance, VR-based exercise is proving to be a powerful tool for enhancing physical health and overall wellness. This article explores the various impacts of virtual reality-based exercise on health, highlighting its benefits, potential challenges, and future directions.

What is Virtual Reality-Based Exercise?

Virtual reality-based exercise leverages immersive, computer-generated environments to simulate real or imagined worlds. Participants can engage in a wide range of physical activities, such as running, cycling, or even practicing yoga, all within a virtual setting. This method capitalizes on the immersive nature of VR to make exercise more engaging and enjoyable, potentially boosting adherence to fitness routines.

Can it Boost My Physical Fitness?

One of the primary advantages of VR-based exercise is its ability to enhance physical fitness. Research indicates that VR exercise can significantly improve cardiovascular health, muscular strength, and overall physical performance (Qian, McDonough & Gao, 2020). For example, a study by Deutch et al. (2013) demonstrated a 13% improvement in VO2 among individuals post-stroke when using VR-augmented cycling, underscoring the efficacy of VR in achieving sufficient training duration and intensity to promote fitness.

McClure and Schofield (2020) conducted a study that analyzed the effects of VR on heart rate and bodily sensations during exercise. The study found that participants who used VR headsets while riding an exercise bike exhibited higher heart rates and burned more calories compared to those who exercised without VR. Additionally, these participants were able to pay less attention to their bodily sensations, allowing them to exercise for longer durations (McClure & Schofield, 2020). This finding supports the idea that VR can enhance physical exertion and endurance by diverting attention from discomfort.

Another study by McDonough et al. (2020) who explored the effect of cycling in VR found that the exercise not only led to higher enjoyment and self-efficacy but also resulted in lower perceived exertion (RPE) during sessions, despite similar or higher increases in systolic blood pressure. These findings emphasize VR cycling's potential to enhance physical performance while making workouts more enjoyable and less monotonous. 

Further, VR-based exercise has been found to significantly enhance functional fitness in older adults. Wang's study (2020) demonstrated that community-dwelling older adults who participated in a 12-week VR exercise program showed marked improvements in upper and lower body flexibility, strength, cardiorespiratory fitness, balance, and agility. These improvements persisted for up to 12 weeks post-intervention, indicating the long-term benefits of VR exercise for maintaining functional fitness in older adults (Wang, 2020).

The immersive nature of VR allows users to experience diverse environments and challenges, reducing the monotony often associated with conventional workouts, thereby significantly enhancing physical performance while providing a more engaging workout experience.

Can VR Improve My Mental Health?

Beyond physical health, VR-based exercise offers substantial mental health benefits. Engaging in VR workouts can alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. Research by Chan et al. (2023) demonstrated that exposure to virtual nature can significantly improve mood and reduce stress. In a study involving both young adults and senior citizens, walking in a virtual forest reduced negative affect and stress levels among young adults, as measured by heart rate, and enhanced positive affect among senior citizens. The immersive nature of VR environments promotes a sense of connectedness to nature, thereby improving psychological well-being. These findings highlight the potential of virtual nature experiences as effective interventions for enhancing mental health.

Can VR Be Used for Pain Therapy?

Virtual reality-based exercise also shows promise in pain management and rehabilitation. VR can be used as a tool for distraction, reducing the perception of pain during physical therapy sessions. Viderman et al. (2023) umbrella review encompassing 21 systematic reviews and meta-analyses, concluded that VR can be successfully applied in pain control across various settings, including perioperative, periprocedural, and chronic pain. The review also suggests that VR can serve as an effective alternative therapy for pain management in both children and adults. Similarly, a systematic review by Qian et al. (2020) found that VR-based exercise significantly improved physiological and rehabilitative outcomes in patients with chronic conditions like stroke, spinal cord injury, and cerebral palsy (Qian et al., 2020).

Can VR Make Me Stick to Exercise?

One of the significant challenges in maintaining a regular exercise routine is adherence. Traditional exercise programs often suffer from high dropout rates due to boredom and lack of motivation. VR-based exercise addresses this issue by providing a more engaging and enjoyable experience. The interactive nature of VR workouts can enhance motivation, making participants more likely to stick with their fitness regimes.

A study by Hoolahan (2020) found that the gamification aspects of VR exercises significantly increased user engagement and adherence to exercise programs. The study involved 20 participants who played 36 VR games over an 18-week program. Heart rate monitoring and questionnaires on perceived exertion were used to measure adherence, which was recorded at 90%, with only a 10% dropout rate, indicating success. Participants' heart rates were higher than their perceived exertion levels, suggesting they felt less effort during VR exercise. Various health benefits were also reported. Overall, the study demonstrates that gamified VR can enhance exercise adherence, reduce perceived exertion, and improve health.

Additionally, VR exercise has shown comparable improvements in fatigue, cognitive function, and sleep quality to conventional treadmill exercise in post-COVID-19 subjects, with participant satisfaction significantly higher in the VR group (Ahmad et al., 2024). This suggests that VR can enhance user experience and adherence to exercise programs.

Furthermore, the use of VR in exercise has been shown to positively influence motivation, affect, enjoyment, and engagement. A scoping review by Mouatt et al. (2020) summarized the existing literature and found that highly immersive VR had more beneficial effects compared to low immersive VR or exercise without VR. The review highlighted that VR strategies, such as the use of virtual avatars and agents/trainers, were particularly effective in enhancing motivation and engagement during exercise.

Can VR Create Stronger Communities?

Another exciting aspect of VR-based exercise is its potential for fostering social interaction and community building. Many VR fitness platforms offer multiplayer modes, allowing users to exercise with friends or join virtual fitness communities. This social aspect can provide additional motivation and support, enhancing the overall exercise experience. Dwivedi et al. (2022) examine the transformative potential of the metaverse, which extends the physical world through extended, augmented, and virtual reality technologies. Interactive virtual environments and immersive games are seen as precursors to the metaverse, providing insight into its potential impacts. The study highlights the significant societal effects and changes in social interactions resulting from widespread adoption of the metaverse.

What Are the Challenges of Using VR?

Despite the numerous benefits, there are challenges and considerations associated with VR-based exercise. One major concern is the cost and accessibility of VR equipment. High-quality VR systems can be expensive, potentially limiting access for some individuals. Additionally, there are potential risks related to motion sickness and eye strain, which can affect the user experience. It is essential for developers to address these issues to ensure VR fitness programs are safe and accessible to a broader population.

Future Directions?

The future of VR-based exercise looks promising, with ongoing advancements in technology and increased adoption. Future research should focus on long-term studies to evaluate the sustained benefits of VR exercise on health and wellness. Moreover, the integration of biometric feedback and artificial intelligence can further personalize VR fitness experiences, tailoring workouts to individual needs and goals.


Virtual reality-based exercise is revolutionizing the landscape of fitness and health. By providing immersive, engaging, and enjoyable workout experiences, VR has the potential to enhance physical fitness, improve mental health, aid in pain management, and increase exercise adherence. While challenges remain, the future of VR-based exercise is bright, promising a new era of innovative and effective health and wellness solutions. By embracing this technology, we can look forward to a future where exercise is not only more effective but also more enjoyable, fostering a healthier and happier society.


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