Mitch Leslie in Science:
It sounds like a crazy way to improve your health—spend some time on a platform that vibrates at about the same frequency as the lowest string on a double bass. But recent research indicates that the procedure, known as whole-body vibration, may be helpful in illnesses from cerebral palsy to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Now, a new study of obese mice reveals that whole-body vibration provides similar metabolic benefits as walking on a treadmill, suggesting it may be useful for treating obesity and type II diabetes. “I think it’s very promising,” says exercise physiologist Lee Brown of the California State University in Fullerton, who wasn’t connected to the study. Although the effects are small, he says, researchers should follow-up to determine whether they can duplicate them in humans. Plenty of gyms feature whole-body vibration machines, and many athletes swear the activity improves their performance. The jiggling does seem to spur muscles to work harder, possibly triggering some of the same effects as exercise. But researchers still don’t know how the two compare, especially when it comes to people who are ill. So biomedical engineer Meghan McGee-Lawrence of the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta and colleagues decided to perform a head-to-head comparison of exercise and whole-body vibration.
The researchers tested mutant mice resistant to the appetite-controlling hormone leptin, resulting in obesity and diabetes. McGee-Lawrence and colleagues divided their animals into three groups. One group lived in cages on a platform that shook gently for 20 minutes each day, subjecting the animals to whole-body vibration. The second group scurried on a treadmill for 45 minutes per day, whereas animals in the control group could laze about to their hearts’ content. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that exercise and whole-body vibration provided comparable health benefits. All three groups of mice gained weight during the study, but those in the exercising and shaken groups put on slightly less than the indolent rodents. They also had less fat and thicker leg muscles.
What’s more, mice in the two “active” groups showed signs of a healthier metabolism.