Sigbjørn Litleskare will defend his dissertation for the degree of dr.philos. (doctor philosophiae) at the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences, the University of South-Eastern Norway.
The title of the dissertation is: «Virtual green exercise - developing a new concept for health promotion».
Trial lecture and dissertation are open.
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This PhD project examined the potential health benefits of virtual green exercise, i.e. physical activity while exposed to virtual natural environments using VR technology. The results showed that cybersickness is a big concern during exposure to virtual nature, but when appropriate techniques to reduce cybersickness were implemented, some positive effects occurred.
In this project, participants walked on a treadmill while watching a virtual walk in a natural environment. Although participants were healthy individuals due to the risk of cybersickness, the target group for this technology is people that find it difficult to visit real nature such as people that are hospitalized, residents in nursing homes, people with disabilities etc. The aim was not to identify a technology that can replace exposure to real nature, but rather extend the benefits of nature to people that usually do not engage in active nature visits.
In a series of five studies, the findings suggest that image stabilization of content in VR is a key factor to reduce cybersickness, that the etiology of cybersickness may be more complex than previously assumed, that participants experience higher levels of enjoyment after virtual green exercise compared to regular indoor exercise, and that virtual nature is currently unable to fully reproduce the health benefits of exposure to real nature. Additionally, several other technical and methodological factors were identified to optimize the potential of positive effects in future studies of virtual green exercise. Higher levels of enjoyment after virtual green exercise may seem trivial at first glance, but previous research has showed that enjoyment during exercise is an important factor for continued exercise participation making this an interesting finding for physical activity promotion.
The overall findings of the PhD project show that it is possible to identify strategies to reduce negative consequences of exposure to virtual green exercise and to optimize the health benefits, making virtual green exercise a potential tool for health promotion in the future.