Mild Vibrations May Help in Long-Term Immersion
Muscle attrition and weight gain are two of the enemies we must contend with when contemplating long-term immersion in a virtual environment. For those who spend day after day hooked up to a VR, there must be methods in place to maintain their physical health, and slow the loss of muscle or the build up of fats caused by a lack of exercise. Pressure points and sores become an issue as well, of course, as they do for any who are bed-bound. However, long-term immersion in a VR is one way of getting such people out of their bed-bound status, if their physical body is not up to it, but their mind needs to remain sharp.
Research intended to help the chronically obese would be quite easy to re-purpose towards part of such a support system, providing some of the benefits of exercise to those whose bodies simply do not wish to know, whilst their minds are occupied elsewhere.
The study in question, a research effort from Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, shows that low-intensity vibrations led to improvements in the immune function of obese mice. Given that what works in mice usually works in humans (its why mice are used as laboratory test-subjects). It is near-certain the same effect will be found in humans.
To make this discovery, lead researcher Phd student Clinton Rubin and colleagues fed a group of adult mice a high fat diet for seven months to make them obese. At the end of this first phase of the experiment, the damage to the immune and skeletal systems of the obese mice was significant, decreasing B- and T-cell populations in the blood, and markedly accelerating the loss of bone. The second phase began after the mice were obese relative to regular controls, with the creation of a sub-group that was subjected to daily 15-minute bouts of low-intensity vibration, barely perceptible to human touch.
Results showed that the vibration intervention helped to rescue both the immune and skeletal systems, returning them toward outcomes measured in mice that were fed a regular diet. This study provides evidence that obesity markedly reduces the production of B- and T-cells and that brief daily exposure to low magnitude mechanical signals rescues B- and T-cell populations, even in a mouse that is already obese.
"This solid support for a shaky intervention should get scientists and health care professionals buzzing," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "If it works out in people, low intensity vibration could be a relatively cheap way of helping obese folks regain health without drugs - until they lose weight by diet and exercise."
For our purposes, it provides an interesting, potentially useful mechanism to be explored in VR interfaces designed for long-term or heavy use, to counteract some of the health problems resulting from a lack of exercise, rather than from obesity.