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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?

Inversion Boots

They first came to public attention in the 1970s as a way to supposedly alleviate chronic back pain. Today, inversion boots -- as well as inversion "racks" -- are resurfacing as a way to not only relieve pain, but to tone and condition muscles involved in posture and core strength.

How They Work:  The boots, which are really ankle supports strapped to your lower leg, are designed to hook into a "rack" that allows you to invert your body up to 40 degrees. (Think a patio chaise longue that puts your legs in the air while pushing your head toward the ground). For the real pros, the boots are hooked into a rack that literally leave you dangling in the air, your head about 2 feet off the ground.

The Promise: Essentially, the goal is supposed to be to allow your muscles and joints to "decompress" after a day of gravity-crunching compression, plus, increase circulation.

What the Experts Say:"In principle, it's a way of using your own body weight to reverse the effects of gravity -- which does work, temporarily. Unfortunately, the minute you resume your normal position, all the effects are lost," says Varlotta. Moreover, he adds, that to gain lasting results, the amount of time you would have to spend upside down would be dangerous. 

Bryant agrees. "For the chronic back pain sufferer, it might be worth a try, but under no circumstances should it be considered a long-term fix," he says. And, he says, anyone with high blood pressure, diabetes, or whose backaches are caused by excess weight should never use an inversion boot or table.

"This can cause a kind of increased pressure, particularly in the ocular [eye] area, that can be especially dangerous for people with these health problems," says Bryant.

Reviewed on December 04, 2007

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