Whole body vibration exercise can be an effective therapy in old age

A woman exercising in a gym

Calling all you sexagenarian-plus elders out there!  If it’s good vibrations and excitations you’re looking for in order to improve your balance and walking then a team from Barcelona in Spain may have the answer.

In fact, using whole body vibration (WBV) to improve body performance is not a new idea but the use of WBV technology as a physical training therapy has become more popular in recent times with the increase in life expectancy.

Falling over and becoming dependent as a result is a major concern for the elderly and social services alike.  WBV, a potentially effective intervention, involves the use of a vibrating platform on which static poses are held or dynamic exercises performed.  It is thought to reduce the risk of falling through its positive effects on balance, muscle strength and cardiovascular resistance.

A systematic review from Spain has been published this month that has attempted to understand more about this intervention in comparison with conventional exercise or control groups.  The study investigates the effects of WBV in older populations; primarily concentrating on knee muscle isometric strength and balance control but also bone mineral density and any safety concerns.  After a search of relevant databases they found sixteen randomised controlled trials (RCT) that were suitable for inclusion, these involved 957 patients with a mean age of 68, 87.5% were living in the community and 77% were women.  All training programs lasted for a minimum of 4 weeks.  A meta-analysis of the RCTs was carried out and this is what they found:

  • The vibration group compared to the control group showed a significant improvement in knee muscle isometric strength (18.30 Nm, 95% confidence interval (CI) 7.95-28.65) muscle power (10.44W, 95% CI 2.85-18.03) and balance control (Tinetti test: 4.5 points, 95% CI 0.95-8.11)
  • Vibration compared with conventional exercise showed no improvements except for a significant increase in the bone mineral density of the femoral neck (0.04 g/cm(-2), 95% CI) which was not thought to be clinically significant
  • No serious adverse effects were reported in any of the studies
  • Quality of the methodology of the included trials was noted as moderate to low

But:

  •  It seems that although the studies were randomised only 3 out of 16 explained their method of randomisation and there was a lack of data reported
  • The trials did not have consistent training protocols, so there was great variability in the vibration parameters, type of exercise, duration of training and assessment methods

The authors concluded:

‘Poor consistency among training protocols should be taken into account for future research and if is possible, standardized in all their parameters.’

‘WBV training seems to be a safe intervention for older individuals…. and could potentially provide benefits for a wide range of people who have difficulties to follow a standard physical exercise program.’

As we all know regular exercise is key to a long and healthy life.  ‘Use it or lose it’ is the motto round these parts.  If you want to stay independent, mobile, co-ordinated and strong you need to exercise your body and this is turn will help energise your mind.  Looks like WBV training could be a helpful solution, particularly for the elderly in fall prevention programs.  If you can follow a sensible exercise regime yourself though, there’s perhaps no need to jump on this particular vibrating platform!

Links

Sitjà-Rabert M, Rigau D, Fort Vanmeerghaeghe A, Romero-Rodriguez D, Bonastre Subirana M, Bonfill X.  Efficacy of whole body vibration exercise in older people: a systematic review.  Disabil Rehabil, 2012;34(11):883-93 [PubMed Abstract]