As relatively new technologies, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have caught on quickly for medical and wellness applications. We’ve written about VR-assisted training for amblyopia in Slovakia and physical therapy gamification in Israel. Leica’s Glow800 AR system differentiates body parts during neurovascular surgery, and Evena Medical’s Eyes-on Glasses help physicians find veins.

Researchers at the University of Kent recently found that virtual reality headsets can reduce pain and increase endurance during exercise. Ph.D. candidate Maria Matsangidou measured heart rate, pain intensity, perceived exhaustion, time to exhaustion, and private body consciousness while 80 subjects lifted and held dumbells in bicep curls. Half the subjects, the non-VR group, were in a room with only a table, chair, and yoga mat. The test subjects wore VR headsets and saw the same room with a visual representation of an arm and the weight. Across the various measurements, the VR and non-VR groups had different results. The VR group reported 10% lower pain intensity, went about two minutes longer before exhaustion, and had three beats per second slower heart rates than the non-VR group.

The Kent research, published in Psychology Sports and Exercise, will need to be validated with additional studies with different types of exercise and exercise conditions. Reducing pain and supporting longer workouts using VR during exercise and physical training, whether for occupational, military, medical, or athletic purposes have implications for improved performance or faster recovery. Removing even part of the discomfort during exercise could alter a common fitness motto to “Less pain, more gain.”