Augmenting Exercise Protocols with Interactive Virtual Reality Environments

Nathan Keller, Neil McHenry, Colton Duncan, Adam Johnston, Richard S. Whittle, Elise Koock, Sournav Sekhar Bhattacharya, Gabriel De La Torre, Lori Ploutz-Snyder, Melinda Sheffield-Moore, Greg Chamitoff, Ana Diaz-Artiles

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

13 Scopus citations


The exploration of space will require ever-increasing exposure to microgravity environments. The human response to this exposure has been categorized and mitigated via countermeasures, principally exercise. However, additional constraints to future mission design minimizes the allotted space and modalities for exercise, creating a risk for psychological fatigue, a reduction in motivation, and a suite of other categorical factors that could, taken together, present a risk for reduced adherence to the countermeasures and/or mission performance. Thus, the current study will examine the effects of a virtual reality (VR) intervention on spaceflight-validated exercise protocols using a prototype rowing ergometer designed to operate within the constraints of future long-duration exploration missions (LDEM). The Integrated Resistance and Aerobic Training (dubbed 'SPRINT') protocol will be used in conjunction with a combination flywheel and resistance training device (M-MED) utilized in prior bedrest studies. The SPRINT protocol trades exercise duration for intensity, providing similar benefits to existing countermeasures while reducing time spent on exercise. The M - MED permits resistance training on the muscles most effected by microgravity exposure on the same device used to train cardiovascular function, thus reducing the volume and weight requirements of the exercise countermeasure. It is upon this framework that we will add the VR rowing simulation. VR has shown to be a lightweight, reliable, and enjoyable technology in numerous studies, while exergaming has been shown to improve measures of motivation and adherence. We will create a rowing simulation that can integrate with a rowing ergometer and any exercise protocol, and then implement it on the M-MED with SPRINT. The simulation will feature virtual teammates, virtual competitors, and other gaming mechanisms that encourage a user to maintain a prescribed heart rate intensity in a way that aims to maximize factors associated with enjoyment and adherence. We plan to conduct a within-subjects experiment on an astronaut-like population. Subjects will be randomly assigned to VR or non-VR in their initial experiment, complete the SPRINT protocol on the M-MED, break for a one-month minimum washout period, then return to complete the protocol again in the other group. As a pilot study, dependent variables have been selected broadly. Physical and psychological outcomes are to be measured alongside adherence to and motivation toward this very challenging protocol. Additional measures are to be made of virtual presence, preexisting bias toward or against VR, and personality traits, which may influence a preference for or against VR. Preliminary data on non-VR subjects shows increasing measures of state-trait anxiety, negative feelings toward the exercise, and amotivation from the start to the end of the protocol. It is hypothesized that overall attitudes toward the protocol will improve with the VR intervention as indicated by metrics of adherence, motivation, affect, and mood restoration. The results of this study will inform future designs of exercise combined with VR applications for implementation during LDEM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2021
PublisherIEEE Computer Society
ISBN (Electronic)9781728174365
StatePublished - Mar 6 2021
Externally publishedYes
Event2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2021 - Big Sky, United States
Duration: Mar 6 2021Mar 13 2021

Publication series

NameIEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1095-323X


Conference2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBig Sky

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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