Try to imagine a world in which you can sit on your comfortable sofa, watch a favorite film on your giant television, quench your thirst with a delicious beverage, and still be working out. Such a world does not exist, as yet, but some experts believe that it is closer than you may think with the advent of what is known as “passive exercise”, particularly the technique known as whole body vibration or WBV. Whole body vibration commonly involves the use of something called a power plate, which vibrates between 25 and 50 times per second. When an individual stands on the plate, knees bent at a 30 degree angle, this vibration is transferred to the body, causing it to go into stress mode. Stress mode involves extremely rapid muscle contractions, simulating physical exercise. And all you have to do is stand there and shake!
But, can such a thing work? There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that it can, indeed. This is not a new idea, after all. All those comedic vignettes of plump ladies and corpulent gentleman vibrating their blubber away with a belt around their waist in an old gym are some indication of just how long this technique has been around. But they have nothing on modern equipment, of course. WBV has been used to train and condition Russian Cosmonauts, and NASA, too, has flirted with its use. Early on, East Germany conducted tests on turkey, believe it or not, before graduating to humans. By 2003, the European Space Agency, in Berlin, was regularly employing this regimen.
So, exactly what benefits can be derived from shaking our cells like the tiny beads inside a set of maracas? Proponents of whole body vibration claim that it increases circulation, muscle strength, and flexibility. It also endows us with a better range of motion, enhances core conditioning and stability, and allows for faster muscle recovery after exercise. There are additional health benefits attributed to WBV as well, such as an enhanced metabolism, increase in bone mineral density, and an improvement in lymphatic flow. It can also lower cortisol in your body, the stress hormone which can increase blood sugar, suppress immune system function, and inhibit bone formation. While it can decrease cortisol, it increases the production of human growth hormone, HGH, which stimulates growth, as the name itself implies, by aiding in the reproduction and regeneration of cells in the body. To top it all off, WBV also helps to reduce cellulite and increase collagen, leading to smoother, healthier appearance to the skin. So, whole body vibration can leave us feeling better and looking good.
This type of passive exercise may sound a bit too good to be true, but for some individuals it may be a true blessing. Consider patients with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease, or even osteoarthritis who are unable to commit to a regimen of regular exercise. These patients would benefit greatly from the muscle toning and conditioning attributed to whole body vibration.
But, back to the question of whether this whole idea is too good to be true. The Mayo Clinic offers some caveats when it comes to whole body vibration. While allowing that certain benefits seem to be achievable, there certainly is no miracle on the horizon. There seem to be advantages to fifteen minute workouts, if the term “workout” can be used, three times a week, there is a lack of competent research proving the benefits. There is evidence, however, that the technique enhances blood flow, promotes weight loss, builds strength, reduces cortisol levels, and eases muscle soreness after exercise. The operative term here is “exercise.” Evidence suggests that these benefits are certainly no greater than those achieved by activities involving some level of physical movement, such as walking, running, swimming, or biking. To truly improve your health and improve your fitness level, you should also engage in a program of healthy eating and regular physical activity in addition to the passive exercise of whole body vibration. There doesn’t seem to be any magic shortcut. However, beyond sports and fitness, WBV can be shown to reduce back pain, improve strength and balance in older individuals, and reduce bone loss. But, as with almost everything that can be good for you, WBV may also have adverse effects on some people. As with any program of serious exercise, check with your doctor.
So, where exactly can I find one of these magic power plates? Look around. These things can be found in a lot of gyms and fitness clubs. Just look for the people squatting with bent knees and shaking like a bowl of jello. But, if you have decided that the benefits of whole body vibration are just what you need, have committed yourself to such a regimen, and decided that you would rather vibrate in the privacy of your own home, there are a variety of options. There are quite a few devices out there, ranging from simple shaking platforms, to larger devices with all the bells and whistles. Amazon, vendor to the world, stocks a number of offerings varying in price from under $200 to well over $2000. Only you can decide on your level of commitment and the amount of your disposable income.
When it comes right down to it, the future of exercise is not here yet. But it must be said that the nature of the future is to be, well, in the future. Perhaps there will come a day when we can sleep and workout at the same time, but that time has not yet come. However, you must concede, that simply standing on a power plate and vibrating your way to good health is pretty close. Even if it doesn’t turn you into a superman, or give you the body of Chris Hemsworth, it may very well provide benefits to enhance your life and health, without a whole lot of effort. And, for the moment at least, that should be more than enough.
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