In Short: A team of researchers found evidence that using virtual reality gear while exercising can increase endurance and reduce pain by making participants less aware of their bodies. The research team, led by Kent University PhD candidate Maria Matsangidou, created a virtual reality representation of a training area. Taking a group of 80 participants, the researchers had them all do the same work, lifting and holding a weight with 20% of their maximum lift capacity. The participants that used VR headsets rather than looking at the real weights during the exercise were able to hold out for up to a minute longer on average, and reported around 10% less pain when it was all said and done.
Background: The disconnect from reality that's provided by VR can be used to fool the brain in all sorts of scenarios, and this research draws on the same principles. VR has been used in medical capacities in the past, including for pain relief, demonstrating the power of fooling the brain and VR's ability to do just that. Too much dissonance between a VR experience and what your body is telling your brain, however, can be disorienting and even sickening. It's a major issue with current VR technologies that many different entities are currently experimenting with.
Impact: As stated above, this is yet another experiment that proves that the gap between a VR experience and reality can fool a subject's brain and avoid triggers or create conditions in ways that would otherwise have not been possible. Research in this field, in a number of various applications, is already strongly underway. This particular find could result in consumer products that incorporate VR and are made to help people exercise. Those who are normally held back by pain, lack of motivation or other factors that could be overcome by giving them a VR tool to push them toward exercise may be well-served by these types of products. While nothing of this sort is announced thus far, VR apps for smartphones that can provide motivation, motion-sensing or room-scale solutions for traditional VR setups, and specialized gear that ties into VR, such as motion-sensing weight sets or wearable weights, are all distinct possibilities that would use just this sort of research as a jumping-off point.