Health Notes: Whole body vibration may benefit older adults, unfit, but not younger or fit

This is another in an occasional series of SNEWS® Health Notes reports that will take a look at one or more recent pieces of research studies or reports about health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. This edition focuses on benefits touted from whole body vibration training aren't universal.
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This is another in an occasional series of SNEWS® Health Notes reports that will take a look at 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. Let us know what you think, what you would like to see, and how you'd like to see it!

This particular research summary was prompted in part by a discussion being held currently on SNEWS about vibration training that followed our recap of products shown at the Health & Fitness Business show. If you haven't seen that Aug. 18 product recap or read the ongoing discussion in the SNEWS Chat, click here



>> Benefits touted from whole body vibration training aren't universal

As the whole body vibration training (WBV) trend picks up steam in the fitness club industry and, more recently, for the home audience, the question arises if all the benefits spouted by the purveyors of such equipment are actually true.

A recent review of literature took a hard look at whether all the claims for good in all kinds of acute and chronic conditions in all kinds of people had any basis in science.

Well, yes, no and maybe, came back the findings. The researchers from the University of Idaho found that sedentary and elderly people seemed to demonstrate gains in muscle performance, sometimes similar to traditional resistance training programs. A quick dose of WBV seems to produce mixed results in the younger or more fit in terms of gains in jumping, sprinting and other muscle performance, and the young and fit may not actually experience any kind of benefit from the training, the researchers found in their review of about 40 pieces of published, peer-reviewed research dating from about the late '80s. There is some possibility that it's beneficial for therapeutic reasons.

"Based upon present experimental evidence, WBV alone will provide limited or no benefit in improving muscle strength and/or jumping performance compared with similar exercise training without WBV in young, fit subjects," the researchers wrote in their conclusion. For unfit and older people, "there is a greater likelihood for WBV to improve muscle performance to at least the same if not greater extent than traditional training methods."

When it comes to safety considerations, the researchers said there were side effects and noted there has been a proposal for systematic studies of the various frequencies for different body positions. For now, they warned, avoid high transmission to the head, and be sure to flex ankle, knee and hip joints to reduce transmission to the torso, neck and head. Plus, those with high blood pressure or heart disease should avoid WBV.

Of course, they also recommended strongly that much more research was needed to fully understand WBV for fitness training as well as proper parameters.

So what? Despite what those hawking the equipment say, there are no definite conclusions about the benefits or harm of WBV as a method for fitness training. Still, as they say, the results hold promise for the elderly and unfit but less promise for the younger and more fit. Caution is still the word of the day.

For the scientifically minded: The research was published in the American College of Sports Medicine's journal "Current Sports Medicine Reports" (www.acsm-csmr.org) in the May/June issue. Click here to see an abstract; full results are available to subscribers.

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