a futuristic image of a woman using both oxygen and virtual reality

Virtual Reality and COPD

I was never a video game player. My two sons play – too often, in my opinion - and many of my friends play as well. These are men in their 50’s and 60’s! Personally, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about Gameboy or Nintendo or Xbox or Playstation. But a friend of mine recently sent me an interesting article - a medical study - mentioning the fact that virtual reality (VR) is being experimented with to see if it might be applicable in helping to treat COPD.

Studies on VR and COPD

The authors of this particular study set out to solve an important problem in rehabilitation – how to motivate COPD patients to perform regular physical fitness exercises when a patient returns from hospital to home and loses the regular supervision of hospital staff.1

Apparently there have been a number of studies looking at whether technology of any kind could be helpful to folks like us in exercising more and better. The general consensus from these studies (and there’s a bunch of them Just Google COPD and virtual reality - about 2,430,000 results) seems to be that the VR games/exercises could be used as part of a larger pulmonary rehabilitation program for COPD patients.

But why VR?

But, why virtual reality (VR)? Virtual reality can provide a player with hearing, movement, balance, and even, sometimes, smell sensations through a head‐mounted device or a flat TV screen. By using a mouse or a joystick or sensors, the player interacts with the VR environment, and physical activity can range from simply using a computer and a joystick to full‐body movements.2

More on this topic

The researchers who conducted this study at the Opole University of Technology in Poland used an Xbox 360 console which involved rafting, cross‐country running, hitting a ball projected towards the player, and a roller‐coaster ride. While using VR, there can be similarities to the exercises we do in pulmonary rehabilitation. So, it makes sense (to me at least!) that VR technologies are being explored as a possible addition to physical rehabilitation programs.3

What should pulmonary rehab programs include?

Most studies I’ve read state that pulmonary rehab programs should include:4

  • elements of an exercise regimen conducted on a treadmill
  • breathing exercises
  • general motor coordination
  • balance training

Marialice Kern, chair of the Department of Kinesiology at San Francisco State University, describes VR as an “alternative form of exercise." “There are certain people who don’t like to exercise, whether that’s hiking or biking. But they love to play video games,” Dr. Kern says. “Why not get both?”5

This is basically my view. If you can do only one of pulmonary rehab or virtual reality - just do it! If you can do both, even better!

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