Whole Body Vibration Training Mimics Metabolic Effects of Exercise and Improves Cardiovascular Health and Fitness in Elderly

wbvt mimics metabolic effects of exercise

Story at-a-glance -

  • Whole Body Vibrational Training (WBVT) can provide impressive health benefits while significantly reducing your workout time
  • It can add another dimension of benefit to your workouts, warmups and cool-downs, boost the intensity of high-intensity interval training, help maintain and improve bone density, improve cardiovascular health and fitness in the elderly and help speed healing after an injury
  • WBVT mimics exercise; obese and diabetic mice gained similar muscle mass and insulin sensitivity improvements either walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes/day or standing on a vibrating platform for 20 minutes/day

By Dr. Mercola

Whole Body Vibrational Training (WBVT) — which originated from research conducted during the 1960s' space race — can provide a host of impressive health benefits, all while significantly reducing your workout time. It can be used to add another dimension of benefit to your regular workout, warmups and cool-downs and, if you're doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT), the vibration will ramp up your intensity even further.

WBVT can also be used to maintain and improve bone density (thereby decreasing risk of osteoporosis) in post-menopausal women and to help speed healing after an injury.

Injuries can leave cellular memories behind that can impede normal body movement or function. WBV stimulation allows your body and brain to de-imprint these old cell traumas, allowing for better and more efficient rehabilitation of injuries from sports than traditional methods of therapy.

Interestingly, WBVT — which involves standing on a vibrating platform such as a Power Plate — has been shown to be just as effective as regular exercise for those who are morbidly obese and diabetic, who may have trouble performing conventional exercises.

WBVT Is an Ideal Fitness Tool for Most People

While vibrating platforms are safe for most individuals, including the elderly, the American Council on Exercise warns WBVT is contraindicated for those with electronic implants such as pacemakers, pregnant women and those with a history of seizures, thrombosis and/or tumors.

For all others, WBVT has a lot to offer, regardless of your age or fitness level. Of particular note, sedentary and elderly individuals have demonstrated significant gains in most measures of muscle performance from WBVT, with results being comparable to traditional resistance exercise training programs.

Studies have shown a mere 12 minutes of WBVT equal 1.5 hours of working out with weights.1 Research has also shown WBVT can help:2,3

Increase muscle strength (especially explosive strength) and improve proprioception and balance

Reduce pain (such as with fibromyalgia)

Increase hormone secretion: IGF-1, testosterone and human growth hormone

Decrease cortisol levels 

Increase fat loss: WBVT in conjunction with resistance training improved fat loss in menopausal women.4

Other research5 found WBVT was 54 percent more effective than traditional aerobics and strength training in producing visceral fat loss.

Those using WBVT were also less likely to gain the weight back

Reduce cellulite: Eight to 13 minutes of WBVT, two to three times per week for six months was shown to reduce cellulite by 26 percent.

When combined with 24 to 48 minutes of cardio, cellulite was reduced by more than 32 percent6

Improve neurological conditions

Improve blood circulation, which can also stimulate tissue healing. Three minutes on a vibrating platform doubles mean circulation for at least 10 minutes7

Increase flexibility and mobility

Increase secretion of serotonin and norepinephrine

Counteract age-related muscle wasting

Increase lymphatic drainage

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The Space Science That Led to a Fitness Revolution

WBVT is based on science originating in space medicine, aimed at counteracting the severe bone and muscle loss astronauts suffer while they're in space.8 By strapping themselves onto a vibrating plate for 10 to 20 minutes a day, these adverse side effects of weightlessness can be ameliorated.  

The reason for this is because the vibrations effectively increase the gravitational forces on your body.9 A high-quality vibration platform such as the Power Plate — which vibrates in all three dimensions: vertical, horizontal and sagittal or front to back — can generate forces from 2 to 6 Gs, depending on the frequency and amplitude settings used.

Each muscle in your body reacts in a continuous flow of micro adjustments, contracting reflexively in response to the vibrations — and since it engages up to 98 percent of your muscle fibers, including the fast and super-fast muscle fibers, you reap greater benefits in a shorter amount of time.

The up-and-down movement improves your muscle tone while the left-to-right and front-to-back movements improve your balance and coordination. The vibrations also encourage your bones to regenerate in the same, but exaggerated, way weight-bearing exercises do.

Just beware that there are many different vibration platforms on the market, and many only provide horizontal oscillations. For maximum benefits, be sure to look for one that has a two-motor system that vibrates in all three dimensions. My personal favorite, and the one I've been using for nearly 10 years now, is the Power Plate. There are several models available at varying price points, including a smaller, portable version.

Intermittent WBV Protocol Appears More Effective Than Continuous

In addition to increasing muscle growth, the neuromuscular response triggered by the rapid firing of the muscle spindle also leads to beneficial changes in your brain, internal organs and glands.

Some studies have even shown distinct hormonal effects.10,11 As noted in the book, "Using Whole Body Vibration in Physical Therapy and Sport,"12 "These results included increased testosterone by 7 percent, increased growth hormone by 460 percent and reduced cortisol by 32 percent."

However, dosage (number of sets performed and the rest periods between sets) in whole body vibration (WBV) appears to be an important consideration. These beneficial hormone responses were observed when a 10-minute protocol was divided into two main sets of five one-minute subsets, with one-minute rest periods between each subset plus a six-minute rest between the two main sets.

When the WBV protocol involved seven minutes of continuous WBV, cortisol levels actually increased. Cortisol is a primary stress hormone that (over time and when chronically elevated) wears your body down by destroying healthy bone and muscle, slowing cell regeneration, interfering with your endocrine function and weakening your immune system.

Vibration Therapy May Help Build Stronger Bones

NASA-funded animal research published in 2001 showed that 10 minutes of vibration therapy per day resulted in "near-normal rates" of bone formation in rats that were otherwise prevented from bearing any weight on their hind legs for the remainder of the day.13 Beneficial results have also been found in studies on post-menopausal women.14

The women, aged 58 to 70 years old, did either static and dynamic exercises for the upper leg and hip area using WBVT, up to 30 minutes a day, three times a week, or 60 minutes of conventional weight training, three times per week. According to the researchers, WBVT can be a helpful adjunct therapy to reverse bone loss and osteoporosis, increasing leg strength by as much as 16 percent, and bone density in the hip by 1.5 percent.

WBVT Mimics Metabolic Effects of Exercise

While there are no magic shortcuts or substitutes for exercise, people who are morbidly obese can get a leg up by using a vibrating platform such as the Power Plate. In the study15,16,17 in question, obese and diabetic mice gained similar muscle mass putting in either 45 minutes a day on a treadmill or standing on a vibrating platform for 20 minutes each day for four months.

They also experienced comparable improvements in insulin sensitivity, which is one of the major ways by which exercise improves your health and counteracts diabetes. Lead author Meghan McGee-Lawrence, assistant professor of cellular biology and anatomy at Augusta University noted:18,19

"Our study is the first to show that whole-body vibration may be just as effective as exercise at combating some of the negative consequences of obesity and diabetes… [If a traditional workout is not possible] Our study suggests it may be possible to obtain some of the same beneficial effects of exercise in a … less strenuous way."

As explained by Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise, WBVT helps strengthen your cells, allowing your body to prepare for eventual exercise.20 If you're already working out regularly, WBVT can kick your routine up a notch. You can use the Power Plate with a variety of exercises, including squats, deadlifts, pushups, planks and cardio intervals, as demonstrated by Jill Rodriguez in the following video.

Power Plate Can Safely Improve Cardiovascular Health and Fitness in Elderly

Seniors, due to physical limitations, often struggle to stay fit. WBVT can be quite helpful, allowing you to become stronger, faster and more agile without having to engage in more strenuous exercise routines.21

By stimulating your fast- and super-fast muscle fibers, WBVT helps counteract the loss of muscle mass that occurs with age and, as already mentioned, it can also help build and maintain stronger bones. Fractures, and especially hip fractures, are a serious hazard for seniors, so this is a very important consideration.

Other studies have demonstrated the elderly can make significant gains in other health and fitness areas using WBVT, including improved physical function and quality of walking, equilibrium, pain reduction, vitality and general health.22,23  A study published in 2015 also concluded WBVT can be useful to improve cardiovascular health in the elderly. The authors explain the mechanisms behind this effect thus:24

"The beneficial effects of WBV on the cardiovascular system … include local increases in skin blood flow in the upper and lower extremities … increased blood flow in the popliteal artery after [nine] minutes of static squat with WBV …

[B]lood volume in the vastus lateralis acutely increases after WBV with a dynamic squat exercise … increases in femoral artery blood flow and mean velocity suggesting improvements in leg artery vasodilation after 12 weeks of WBVT in individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus …

The vasodilatory response … was found to be related to increases in nitric oxide (NO) production. In addition to NO, other endothelial factors such as reduced endothelin-1, a vasoconstrictor, may be implicated in the vasodilatory response … Research on the chronic effects of WBVT on the cardiovascular system is limited to studies by our group. Recently, we reported promising findings that may lead to the application of WBVT as a method of cardiovascular therapy.

In this investigation, 10 overweight/obese normotensive women underwent [six] weeks of WBVT using leg exercises. WBVT resulted in a decrease in brachial systolic BP (SBP), aortic SBP … and sympathovagal balance … In another line of studies by our group in obese postmenopausal women, similar decreases were reported in aortic SBP, aortic DBP … after 6 weeks of WBVT … and brachial SBP and DBP … after 12 weeks of WBVT …

Since the elderly have increased SBP … and arterial stiffening the likelihood of cardiovascular events may be increased in these individuals. This is important to point out since the chronic adaptations to WBVT reported in the previously mentioned studies could translate into health benefits for the elderly."

Power Plate Makes Bodyweight Exercises Even More Effective

Total Video Length: 1:52

Bodyweight exercises are an excellent way to strengthen your core, and squats, planks and pushups are terrific examples (for demonstrations, see Rodriguez's video in an earlier section). Squats are one of the best exercises for strengthening and toning your glutes, legs, hips and back, as well as improving your balance. In fact, squats are scientifically ranked among the top six exercises for glutes. You can make your squats even more productive by doing them on the Power Plate.

In the video above, two different types of squats are demonstrated: squat with a twist, followed by sumo squats. Remember that if you really slow your squats down, you are essentially turning them into a high intensity exercise. The super-slow movement allows your muscle, at the microscopic level, to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle. When you combine this super-slow technique with WBVT, you are really maximizing your gains.

Power Plate Can Be a Useful Post-Workout Tool as Well

Last but not least, the Power Plate is also an excellent tool for post-workout relaxation, stretching and massage. In the video above, Rodrigues demonstrates several possibilities, including:

  • Standing hamstring stretch
  • Lat stretch
  • Thigh massage
  • Glute massage
  • Upper arm and back massage