Virzoom, developers of the popular VR biking software, VZFit got a bit of mainstream attention this month with the publication in the British Journal of Health Psychology of a dual Brunel, London and Exeter University study on the benefits of virtual reality and music in motivating people to exercise.

Ordinarily, scientific publications and studies are associated with new discoveries and ideas that we didn’t yet know, but here it seems they are least two or three years behind our readership, who are already fully aware of the benefits virtual reality brings to exercise. Nonetheless, it’s heartening to see the medium getting some official recognition from the men in white lab coats.

The Study

The study, rather brilliantly-titled ‘Ready Exerciser One: Effects of music and virtual reality on cycle ergometer exercise’, comprised a controlled experiment with 24 volunteers on stationary bikes cycling according to various conditions;

A control group, staring at walls

A music group, still staring at walls but with songs playing

A VR group, using Virzoom’s VZFit to cycle through virtual environments

A VR & music group, using VZFit with in-game music enabled.

Unsurprisingly experiencing VR with music raised perceived enjoyment by 26.4% compared with the control group, whilst VR plus music was 17.5% more enjoyable than music alone.

Announcing the findings Professor Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University said ‘It was quite striking how the combination of virtual reality with music boosted exercise-related pleasure, compared with just music or control conditions,”.

“Our findings show the abundant potential for the use of virtual reality combined with music to get people more physically active in their own homes.”

Lead author, Dr Jonathan Bird from Exeter University chimed ‘Participants appeared to thoroughly enjoy the virtual reality exercise and enjoyment makes people more likely to stick to a routine.”

You can read the full paper for yourself here. To be honest for a study based on increasing fun it’s a rather tedious read full of jargon terms like valence, affective variables, and omnibus analysis but Robert Collins from Virzoom gave me this simple colored chart that sums it up well.

In their concluding summary, the paper’s authors write ‘The current findings provide evidence that audio‐visual stimuli administered via modern VR headsets can assist in the promotion of a pleasurable exercise experience. This is predicated on the findings from several dependent variables given that the technology‐mediated exercise was associated with more positive affective valence, greater perceived activation, more dissociative thoughts, and higher ratings of post‐exercise enjoyment. It is noteworthy that the aforementioned effects were observed not only when compared to the control condition, but also when compared to the music condition. There is evidence amassing that points to a link between exercise‐related effect and adherence (Ekkekakis et al ., 2018; Williams et al ., 2016). In addition, researchers have been encouraged to consider how technology can provide the keystone for interventions that seek to promote regular engagement in physical activity (Lewis et al ., 2017). Accordingly, modern VR technology should be considered by health psychologists and exercise practitioners as a useful tool through which to facilitate a pleasurable exercise experience.’.

A solid endorsement for VR fitness

This recommendation that VR technology should be considered by health care providers as a useful tool to make exercise more enjoyable is an encouraging development. For all of us who have used it, VR is clearly an excellent medium in which to exercise. Virtual reality provides a full sense of presence and immersion enabling even the most self-conscious of exercisers to quickly forget their surroundings, and can even help with pain management as the immersive game worlds help shift a person’s focus away from their own body, and more to engaging with what’s going on around them.

Towards the end of last year, I interviewed Katie Hoolahan, CEO of Virtually Healthy, who was conducting her own research into the creation of VR exercise programs for fitness, rehabilitation, and therapy. She had been in discussions with her local NHS Trust and universities about conducting research into her programs once she had completed her research, and studies such as this will hopefully act as additional leverage for creative startups like Katie’s to demonstrate the worth of virtual reality as a tool for helping people to exercise more consistently, with a higher retention rate than traditional means.

Virzoom’s VZFit in action

I’ve been using Virzoom’s VZFit avidly since October of last year and can certainly attest to its ability to make exercise more fun. To give you a clearer idea of what the study would actually have been like I recorded a 30-minute ride of my own, cycling through the gorgeous scenery of Colorado’s Highway 128.

VZFit recently added licensed music to its Explorer app, courtesy of Currently, you can choose from three stations, modern pop, classic hits, and electronic dance music. Hopefully, a rock channel is on the way, but for this ride, I selected modern pop.

The video doesn’t do justice to the sense of presence and immersion you get inside the headset, the time really does fly by, and with the recent addition of the radio feature I can happily cycle for long periods of time, at least until my bits go numb from saddle sore, VR not yet having worked out a cure for that…

How do I try this?

If you’re interested in giving VZFit a go the setup process is fairly straight forward. You will need a stationary bike, (any will do), and a third party Bluetooth cadence sensor. You can pick a sensor up for around $25 on eBay, I recommend an IGPSport C61 cadence sensor as the cheapest entry point.

After that, you will, of course, need a compatible VR headset, which means either an Oculus Quest, or an Oculus Go. Yes, that’s right, the VZFit works perfectly well with a sub $200 headset!

You can try VZFit completely for free by creating a Virzoom account on their website. The full service costs $9.99 a month or $99.95 a year, but Virzoom has a free version with one rotating game and one rotating Explorer ride each month, so it’s well worth downloading and checking it out, even if you don’t intend to take up a monthly subscription.

The sensor will also allow you to try out Holodia’s Holofit too, which in addition to bikes, works with ellipticals and rowers, and is compatible with PC VR headsets as well.

If you have any home exercise cardio equipment a Bluetooth cadence sensor is a great accessory to pick up.

So now it’s official, VR helps exercisers to stay motivated, reduces pain awareness and encourages would-be fitness enthusiasts to train for longer. If you’re yet to try the VR fitness revolution maybe now is the time to get started…