Virtual reality exercise for anxiety and depression: A preliminary review of current research in an emerging field

Nan Zeng, Zachary Pope, Jung Eun Lee, Zan Gao

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

140 Scopus citations


Objective: Although current evidence supports the use of virtual reality (VR) in the treatment of mental disorders, it is unknown whether VR exercise would be beneficial to mental health. This review synthesized literature concerning the effect of VR exercise on anxiety and depression among various populations. Methods: Ten electronic databases were searched for studies on this topic from January 2000 through October 2017. Studies were eligible if the article: (1) was peer-reviewed; (2) was published in English; and (3) used quantitative measures in assessing anxiety-and depression-related outcomes. Results: A total of five empirical studies met the eligibility criteria. These studies included two randomized clinical trials, one control trial, and two cross-sectional studies. Four studies reported significant improvements in anxiety- and depression-related measures following VR exercise, including reduced tiredness and tension, in addition to increased energy and enjoyment. Nonetheless, one study failed to support the effectiveness of VR exercise over traditional exercise alone on depressive symptoms. Conclusions: Findings favor VR exercise in alleviating anxiety and depression symptomology. However, existing evidence is insufficient to support the advantages of VR exercise as a standalone treatment over traditional therapy in the alleviation of anxiety and depression given the paucity of studies, small sample sizes, and lack of high-quality research designs. Future studies may build upon these limitations to discern the optimal manner by which to employ VR exercise in clinical settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number42
JournalJournal of Clinical Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 4 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exercise
  • Mental health
  • Virtual reality


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