Virtual Reality ‘Exergames’ Enhance Mobility and Ease Fear of Falling, Study Finds

Virtual Reality ‘Exergames’ Enhance Mobility and Ease Fear of Falling, Study Finds

Women with fibromyalgia (FM) were found to improve their mobility skills and balance and have less fear of falling after performing exergames, a form of exercising based on virtual reality, a study shows.

The results with 83 FM patients were reported in “Exergames for women with fibromyalgia: a randomised controlled trial to evaluate the effects on mobility skills, balance and fear of falling,” published in the journal PeerJ.

Women with FM who exercise show improved physical function, including balance and mobility skills. This is usually the first approach to FM treatment, which may also involve medication. Some women, however, don’t stick with physical activities and need to be motivated with new forms of exercise.

Researchers combined physical exercise with virtual reality (VR) to distract from pain and provide an enjoyable alternative to classic exercises. Participants with FM were randomly assigned  to an exercise group or a control group, which did not add exercise to everyday activities.

During eight weeks, women in the exercise group participated in several exergames designed by researches and called VirtualEx-FM; the software uses a sensor to follow patients’ movements.

VirtualEx-FM provided three environments. One, for aerobic exercise, had women imitate the movements performed by a dance teacher on a video. For practice with posture and coordination, participants interacted with an apple that appeared and disappeared around them. In the third, participants were asked to step on virtual footprints to improve balance.

Researchers afterward measured the time participants took to rise from a chair, walk 3 meters, turn around, walk back to the chair and sit down again. They also evaluated the balance and fear of falling in the participants.

Women in the exercise group completed the test 0.49 seconds faster than before training (an improvement from 6.69 to 6.19), compared to 6.93 seconds taken by those in the control group (whose members actually had a worse time; it was 6.71 seconds at study start). This corresponded to a 10.61% improvement relative to the time taken before exercise training. Also, women who exercised showed a 23.58% improvement in balance and lessened fear of falling.

“These results, along with high adherence (only one participant abandoned the study), indicate that exergames may be a feasible alternative form of rehabilitation therapy for improving balance and mobility problems in this population,” the authors wrote.