Virtual training improves physical and cognitive functions

Virtual training improves physical and cognitive functions

Virtual training improves physical and cognitive functions


Researchers at Tohoku University’s Smart Aging Research Center (IDAC) have developed an innovative training protocol that results in real physical and cognitive benefits using immersive virtual reality (IVR).



We all know that exercise is essential to overall well-being and helps delay aging related disorders. What is more surprising is that physical activity can have positive effects not only on the body, but also on cognitive functions.

Unfortunately, people with long-term illness or recovery from illness cannot always be physically active.

IVR, which enables the creation of a realistic virtual world that we can explore with our virtual body, can help solve this problem. It seems unreal,

but the illusion is so effective that even if the seated person and the virtual body walk, the person thinks they are moving and even evokes similar physiological responses.


Professor Ryuta Kawashima, director of IDAC, led the research team to investigate whether virtual training can have similar benefits to cognitive function as physical exercise. The healthy young participants followed the virtual training protocol. With a seated IVR headset,


they saw a virtual body (also known as an avatar) in first-person perspective. This created the illusion of being the avatar yourself.( The  virtual body  alternated between 30 seconds  of walking  30 seconds  running for 8 minutes.)


The researchers found that the participants’ heart rate increased steadily with virtual movements, even though the subjects were completely still. Above all, cognitive functions (especially executive functions) and their neural basis were tested before and after the virtual training.


The results showed that participants improved their cognitive performance (in particular, they were faster), which was also confirmed by increased activation of areas related to the brain (especially the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex).


“The application of immersive virtual reality for clinical purposes is often questioned because it was originally intended for entertainment,” says Professor Dalila Burin, who developed and directed the experiment. ( However, this study shows that IVR training protocols can help people with reduced mobility achieve benefits that are comparable to actual physical activity.)


Professor  Burin adds, “It’s also  beneficial  for  people  who  want  to start  exercising in a fun  and safe way.)

By introducing virtual reality technology in the field of cognitive neuroscience, the researchers want to offer patients clinical solutions and also contribute to theoretical models of body representation and motor skills.

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