Access to physical activity among youth with spina bifida (SB) is much lower than it is for children without disability. Enjoyable home-based exercise programs are greatly needed.
Our objective is to examine the feasibility of a virtual reality (VR) active video gaming system (ie, bundle of consumer-available equipment) to meet US physical activity guidelines in two youth with SB.
Two youth with SB—a 12-year-old female and a 13-year-old male; both full-time wheelchair users—participated in a brief, 4-week exercise program using a popular VR head-mounted display: Oculus Quest (Facebook Technologies). The system included a Polar H10 (Polar Canada) Bluetooth heart rate monitor, a no-cost mobile phone app (VR Health Exercise Tracker [Virtual Reality Institute of Health and Exercise]), and 13 games. The intervention protocol was conducted entirely in the homes of the participants due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The VR system was shipped to participants and they were instructed to do their best to complete 60 minutes of moderate-intensity VR exercise per day. Exercise duration, intensity, and calories expended were objectively monitored and recorded during exercise using the heart rate monitor and a mobile app. Fatigue and depression were measured via self-report questionnaires at pre- and postintervention. Participants underwent a semistructured interview with research staff at postintervention.
Across the intervention period, the total average minutes of all exercise performed each week for participants 1 and 2 were 281 (SD 93) and 262 (SD 55) minutes, respectively. The total average minutes of moderate-intensity exercise performed per week for participants 1 and 2 were 184 (SD 103) (184/281, 65.4%) and 215 (SD 90) (215/262, 82.1%) minutes, respectively. One participant had a reduction in their depression score, using the Quality of Life in Neurological Disorders (Neuro-QoL) test, from baseline to postintervention, but no other changes were observed for fatigue and depression scores. Participants reported that the amount of exercise they completed was far higher than what was objectively recorded, due to usability issues with the chest-worn heart rate monitor. Participants noted that they were motivated to exercise due to the enjoyment of the games and VR headset as well as support from a caregiver.
This study demonstrated that two youth with SB who used wheelchairs could use a VR system to independently and safely achieve exercise guidelines at home. Study findings identified a promising protocol for promoting exercise in this population and this warrants further examination in future studies with larger samples.