On a recent sunny winter's afternoon at Spa World, the sprawling Korean sanitarium in Centreville, VA, three scraggly teenage hipsters decided to ride the strange-looking whole-body vibrating machines just to see what would happen.
Mounting the oscillating platforms and pressing "go," their bellies and thighs jiggled ferociously. And the teens laughed like hell.
But those goofy-looking machines are no joke, a new study says.
In some ways, they may be just as good for you as traditional exercise, according to test results published in the journal Endocrinology.
"Our study is the first to show that whole-body vibration may be just as effective as exercise at combatting some of the negative consequences of obesity and diabetes," Dr. Meghan McGee-Lawrence of Augusta University in Augusta, GA, the paper's lead author, said in a statement.
Whole-body vibration, or WBV, works by causing muscles to contract and expand multiple times per second, effectively transmitting energy from the wiggling platform to the body, which reacts to maintain balance.
To be sure, the new study achieved results in mice, not people.
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Obese mice were divided into three groups. One used WBV for 12 weeks, while another had access to a treadmill for traditional exercise. The third group was sedentary.
The vibrating mice rode the machines for just 20 minutes a day. The walking mice worked out for 45 minutes a day at a slight incline.
Both groups of active mice showed similar metabolic benefits from WBV and traditional exercise, researchers found. The WBV machine and the treadmill enhanced muscle mass and insulin sensitivity in obese mice comparably.
"Taken together, these observations indicate that whole-body vibration recapitulates the effects of exercise on metabolism in type 2 diabetes," the researchers wrote.
Results from walking and vibrating weren't identical, though.
"While WBV did not fully address the defects in bone mass of the obese mice in our study, it did increase global bone formation, suggesting longer-term treatments could hold promise for preventing bone loss as well," McGee-Lawrence said.
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The results are significant in part because it may prove easier to convince people to stand on a vibrating platform for a few minutes a day than to lift weights, jog, or try yoga.
More than a third of US adults are obese, and obesity-related conditions like heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer rank among the leading causes of preventable death in America, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US was $147 billion in 2008, and medical costs for people who are obese were over $1,400 higher than people of average weight, according to the agency.
WBV advocates have long touted the benefits of vibration machines as an easy and time-effective way to achieve weight-loss, improve muscle-strength, and stimulate blood-flow, but research to back up their claims has been limited.
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