Health Notes: Vibration training, Pilates benefits, leanness means little if sedentary, weight exercises improve bone density

You, our readers, have asked for it, so SNEWS® is delivering it: This is another in an occasional series of Health Notes reports begun in 2005 that will take a look at a one or more recent pieces of research studies or reports about health, fitness, physical activity and wellness.

You, our readers, have asked for it, so SNEWS® is delivering it: This is another in an occasional series of Health Notes reports begun in 2005 that will take a look at a one or more recent pieces of research studies or reports about health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. We'll focus on news you can use and present results in plain English, without all the techno-garble that can make many research studies seem overwhelming to read, let alone understand and explain to somebody else. We hope you will gain nuggets of information and condensed insights that will help you serve your customers better and conduct your business with more confidence. Let us know what you think, what you would like to see, and how you'd like to see it!

>> Vibration training may offer stimulation, could be too strong
With the increase in the promoted benefits of training on devices that vibrates the whole body, a recent study in the Journal of Sports Medicine & Physical Fitness has taken a quick look at the advantages and potential disadvantages. In a review, researchers in Israel took a look at mechanical vibration used for training purposes vs. massage. When used as simple muscle stimulation in a massaging manner, prolonged use did not show any positive impact. When used in the relatively recent manner of whole-body vibration while training, researchers found that high jumps and other tasks that demanded muscles to stretch and shorten were the most benefited. However, the researchers also found that the intensity and duration of vibration used in such training "dramatically exceed(s) the standards for occupational vibration established by the International Organization for Standardization."

Take away: Don't just accept what the companies selling vibration equipment are saying. It is possible it may not be for everybody and may in fact entertain potential harm. (Stay tuned, since our Summer 2006 GearTrends® Fitness magazine is going to take a closer look at what's out there, what's being claimed and what reality is.)

For the scientifically minded: Unfortunately, the journal is not online. However, if it interests you, many libraries carry it using the citation: J Sports Med Phys Fitness, Vol. 45, Issue 3, September 2005.

>> Pilates benefits not questioned, but calorie-burning minimal
With the popularity of Pilates still growing, researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, took at look at a beginner and advanced class to find out what level of fitness training was being achieved.

The researchers had subjects -- healthy women ages 18 to 26 who had at least intermediate experience -- take two 50-minute Pilates mat classes (one beginner and one advanced). The classes included five minutes of alignment exercises followed by 40 minutes of Pilates movements, ending with five minutes of stretching and realignment. During the season, measures of how hard someone is working were measured including heart rates and oxygen consumption, with subjects rating how hard they felt they were working on a so-called Borg scale (6-20).

Results showed that the beginner route didn't work participants' heart and lungs hard enough to improve cardio fitness; it burned 175 calories on average. The advanced routine did more but was still quite low -- equivalent to walking a moderate 3.5 to 4.0 mph; it burned 254 calories on average. Participants felt they were working harder than they really were, which researchers attributed to high muscular use despite lower heart rates.

"Pilates has a long list of benefits including improved body mechanics, balance, coordination, strength and flexibility," said Cedric X. Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for ACE, which funded the study. "While the ACE study shows that a Pilates session burns a relatively small amount of calories, it is still a valuable addition to any exercise routine offering the essential elements of building a strong core and increasing flexibility."
Take away: Don't pass on the Pilates with its great core-strength and flexibility building ability, but it is a supplement to other calorie-burning and cardio-respiratory training activities.

For the scientifically minded: Take a look at a write-up of the study in the November/December 2005 issue of ACE Fitness Matters from the American Council on Exercise. Click here to access the study.

>> Being lean but still sedentary doesn't minimize risk of heart disease
As a part of the ongoing Nurses' Health Study, a researcher has reported that being skinny and sedentary won't eliminate risk just as being fit and fat doesn't either.

Frank Hu, an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, reported that nurses in the study who were obese and did not exercise were 3.4 times more likely to have heart disease over the two decades of the study and those who were obese and active were 2.48 times more likely, indicating physical activity helps a little. Those who were at normal weight and did not exercise were 1.5 times as likely as those who were thin and active. The study has nearly 89,000 women, ages 34 to 59, enrolled and who report regularly on a variety of topics.

"A high level of physical activity did not eliminate the risk of coronary heart disease associated with obesity and leanness did not counteract the increased coronary heart disease risk associated with inactivity," said Hu, countering recent reports that said people could get away with being fat if they exercised.

"Both fitness and weight are independent and serious predictors of heart risk," Hu said.

Take away: Being active will always help lower risk of heart disease; lowering your weight to normal range adds more protection.

For the scientifically minded: Results appeared in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, Vol. 113, January 2006. To access the study, click here.

>> Weight-training exercises improve bone density
An ongoing study of bone density and strength training (called BEST) has confirmed that the right combination of weight-bearing resistance exercises can help improve bone density in post-menopausal women.

The four-year study at the University of Arizona found that women who did exercises but also supplemented with calcium citrate not only did not lose density (typically 10 percent to 20 percent with age) but actually increased density by 1 percent to 2 percent.

Study participants were coached in the exercises and did two sets of six-to-eight repetitions, three times a week as a part of a balanced fitness program. The exercise regimen included leg press, one-arm military press, seated row, wall squat and Smith squat, lat pull down and a back extension. Participants lifted increasingly heavier weights, with the amount of weight lifted in correct form emphasized over number of repetitions.

"The good news is these long-term data confirmed the potent combination of improved nutrition and increased physical activity to prevent bone loss. The extended use of calcium supplementation and exercise counteracted the typical loss of BMD in women at this age, in a regimen that women really can stick with," said Timothy Lohman, Ph.D., principal investigator for the study and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition.

Take away:
Lifting weights or other strength training is not just for looks but can affect quality of life in later years.

For the scientifically minded: The journal can be found through the non-profit foundation's website by clicking here, although access is limited to members.