Virtual Reality Balance Games Provide Little Muscular Challenge to Prevent Muscle Weakness in Healthy Older Adults

Aijse W. de Vries, Jente Willaert, Ilse Jonkers, Jaap H. van Dieën, Sabine M.P. Verschueren

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Objective: Muscle weakness is an important risk factor for falls in older adults. Intensity and duration of muscle activity are important determinants of exercise effectiveness in combating muscle weakness. The aim of this article was to assess the intensity and duration of muscle activity in virtual reality (VR) balance games. Materials and Methods: Thirty young and 30 healthy older adults played seven different VR balance games. Muscle activity of the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, soleus, and gluteus medius was obtained using surface electromyography (EMG). The processed EMG signals were divided into 200-ms blocks, after which each block was categorized by its average normalized EMG activity, that is, >80%, 60%-80%, 40%-60%, or <40% of maximum voluntary contraction (MVC). We calculated the total number of blocks in each category to score intensity, as well as the maximal number of consecutive 200-ms blocks (MCBs) >40% MVC, to identify prolonged muscle activity. Results: Muscle activity during game play was mostly <40% MVC and prolonged activation was lacking. Only the games that included more dynamic movements showed activation blocks of higher intensity and resulted in more MCBs. Conclusion: Our method allowed us to analyze the overall muscle activity and the distribution of activity over a trial. Although the activation levels during these VR games were low in general, we identified game elements that could potentially provide a strength training stimulus. Future research should aim to implement these elements, such that the intensity, prolonged activity, and rest are optimized to sufficiently challenge lower limb muscles in VR training.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-236
Number of pages10
JournalGames for Health Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jun 2020


  • Balance
  • Muscle activity
  • Older adults
  • Virtual reality


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