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Passive Exercise: Whole-Body Vibration and More

Working out while not really working is the concept behind a trend known as passive exercise. But does it really work?

Whole-Body Vibration continued...

Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, says while whole body vibration has potential, more research is clearly needed.

"Right now, the marketing and hype is greatly outpacing the research and the scientific evidence -- but that said, from a conceptual standpoint, it could presumably improve muscle strength and stability, and an increase in bone density," says Bryant.

Indeed, in one study of 90 postmenopausal women published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research in 2004, a group of Belgian researchers found almost a 1% increase in hip bone density among users of the Power Plate form of WBV, along with measurable increase in muscle strength.  The study participants used the machine for a total of 30 minutes three times a week for six months.

In another study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, researchers found that elderly people who were not able to participate in traditional exercise saw muscle strengthening and speed-of-movement benefits from using the Power Plate.

And in a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mice that were placed on a low-vibration platform for 15 minutes, five days weekly, for 15 weeks ended up with smaller torsos than a group of mice who were put on a platform that didn't vibrate -- even though all the mice ate the same amount of food.

Still, Gerard Varlotta, DO, remains unconvinced that whole-body vibration can replace conventional exercise.

"We know that walking 2 miles a day is an effective way to build bone -- and I think it's OK to use this equipment as an adjunct to your normal exercise routines -- but to rely on it solely, we're not there yet," says Varlotta, director of physical therapy at the Rusk Rehabilitation Center at New York University Medical Center. 

Chi Machines

As with whole body vibration, these machines shake the body from the ankles up. The big difference is that the moving and shaking goes on while you're lying down.

How It Works:  You lie on the floor (or a treatment table) and place your ankles on top of a small square box that basically vibrates your body from the feet up.

The Promise: The benefits are supposed to include improved metabolism, weight reduction, increased energy, muscle relaxation, increase in cell oxygenation, and stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. Some proponents say that just five minutes on the Chi machine is the aerobic equivalent of walking for 30 minutes.

Chi machines are also advertised as being beneficial for those with diabetes, fibromyalgia, lymphodemia, and migraine headaches, as well as those who want to tone their muscles and lose weight -- all while lying down for just 15 minutes a day.

What the Experts Say: "This is a totally passive way of supplying increased circulation to a muscle and that's all," says Varlotta. "It will not give you increased strength, and it could never replace exercise done standing on your own two feet."

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