Vibrate yourself to a leaner you

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Vibrating exercise platforms, which are increasingly found in commercial gyms in Europe and elsewhere, may help people lose the particularly harmful deep “hidden” fat that surrounds the abdominal organs and is linked to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

“We conclude that it would be good to combine aerobic exercise with whole body vibration in a weight loss program,” study chief Dirk Vissers, a physiotherapist at the Artesis University College and the University of Antwerp in Belgium told Reuters Health.

With whole body vibration training, people do squats, lunges, calf raises, push-ups and sit-ups on a platform that sends mild vibratory impulses through the feet and into the rest of the body. These vibrations make muscles rapidly contract, which builds lean muscle mass. Whole body vibration training is touted as a more effective method of resistance training. Its true value, however, has been unclear.

To investigate, Vissers and his colleagues divided 79 overweight or obese adults into four groups. One group dieted but did not exercise; another group dieted and did “conventional” aerobic and general strength training exercises; a third group dieted and engaged in three sessions per week of supervised whole body vibration training but no aerobic exercise; and the fourth group -- the control group -- did not diet or exercise.

Sixty-one of the participants completed the study, which consisted of a six-month “intervention” period, followed by a six-month period in which they were encouraged to do their best to maintain a healthy diet and exercise regimen on their own.

“Over the year, only the conventional fitness and vibration groups managed to maintain a 5 percent weight loss, which is what is considered enough to improve health,” Vissers said in a prepared statement from the European Congress on Obesity in Amsterdam, where he presented the study findings Friday.

During the first six months, the diet-only group lost about 6 percent of their initial body weight, but could not maintain a 5 percent weight loss in the next six months. The group that dieted and engaged in conventional exercise lost about 7 percent of their initial body weight in the first six months and managed to keep most of it off by the end of the study.

The whole body vibration group, on the other hand, lost 11 percent of their body weight during the intervention phase and by the end of the follow-up period they had maintained a 10.5 percent weight loss.

The control group gained weight.

“But the biggest surprise,” Vissers told Reuters Health, “was that we saw an effect of vibration exercise training on the visceral adipose tissue, which is the intra-abdominal fat that is the most important because it really plays a central role in metabolic syndrome.”

The vibration group lost significantly more of this particularly harmful hidden fat during the intervention period than the other groups and was more likely to keep it off during the next six month period.

“In my opinion, vibration exercise is a useful contribution to exercise, a healthy lifestyle and calorie restriction,” Vissers said.

Performing vibration exercises properly is crucial. “If you think it’s too easy, you probably aren’t doing it right,” Vissers said. “What we see in gyms very often -- people just standing on the machine holding the handles -- is not going to do anything.”

In the training sessions conducted by Vissers and colleagues, the speed and intensity of the machine was gradually increased each week as well as the variety and duration of exercises from 30 seconds for each of 10 exercises to 60 seconds for each of 22 exercises. The average time spent on the machine was 11.9 minutes per session in the first three months and 14.2 minutes in the second three months.

With vibration plate exercise training, “supervision in the beginning is imperative and the longer the better,” Vissers advised.