WHEN the elderly can't exercise, doing stints on a vibrating platform may help them become slightly stronger, faster and more agile, according to a Spanish study.
The method used in the study, which appeared in the journal Maturitas, involves standing on top of a flat platform about the size of a boogie board that sends mild vibrations through the feet to the rest of the body.
While on the platform, the person does exercises such as standing or squatting, with bending the knees helping to transmit the vibrations.
Exercise is the best option for good health in older age, said lead author Alba Gomez Cabello, but for those unable to perform aerobic exercise, this vibration technique "could be an easy and quick treatment to improve physical fitness."
In the study, funded by the Spanish government, 24 men and women over 65 performed 10 squats held for 45 seconds on the vibrating platform, with a minute rest in between, three times per week for 11 weeks. The study also included 25 people who did not take part in the vibration exercises.
There were some differences between the groups by the end of the study, although they were small. Those who did the exercises were, on average, able to do two more reps of upper and lower body strength exercises, had almost half an inch more lower body flexibility, and walked 33 yards one second faster than before the vibration training.
"Whole body vibration is an easy and quick way of exercise that stimulates muscles and improves fitness," said Cabello, who studies growth and exercise at the University of Zaragoza, Spain.
In theory, vibrations help activate muscles, strength bones and improve circulation in people of all ages. But the vibrating platforms have shown mixed results in recent research, improving balance and muscle tone in some studies but failing to prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women in another.
There still isn't enough evidence to convince most exercise scientists to advocate the devices, according to Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, who studies aging and physical activity at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign.
"That doesn't mean it's a scam, it means there's really been very little study of this kind of intervention," he said.
The vibration group did squat reps, while the comparison group did not, so some of the fitness improvements could have been due to the squatting exercises and not the vibration.
A better assessment of the true health of older adults would take into account whether whole body vibration influences chronic conditions like heart disease and mental health, depression and anxiety, he said.
His 82-year-old mother has a whole body vibration machine in her bedroom, which she uses every morning to "loosen up her joints."
Chodzko-Zajko gives her the same advice he'd give anyone: "I don't think it's going to do you any harm, but don't stop doing your regular exercise routine."