Shake It Off

When Taylor Swift tunefully advised us all to just “shake it off” she was not referring to our excess pounds. But soon, based upon research being performed at Augusta University in Augusta, Georgia, that suggestion won't be so far fetched. The scientists there are working on a less strenuous form of exercise known as whole-body vibration (WBV) that can mimic the muscle and bone health benefits of regular exercise.

The work is still in the animal-model stages, but the results so far have been jaw-dropping. A daily 20-minute dollop of WBV – less time than you probably spend on a treadmill – significantly reduced body fat and insulin resistance and improved muscle and bone strength in the mice test subjects.

"Our study is the first to show that whole-body vibration may be just as effective as exercise at combating some of the negative consequences of obesity and diabetes," said the study's first author, Meghan E. McGee-Lawrence, PhD. "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."

Interestingly, the comparatively light activity did not have the same impact on slimmer and more naturally active mice that, left to their own devices, might just run six miles a week. It was the obese and diabetic mice who benefited most.

What's the science? The researchers think the vibration benefits result from getting our cells moving. Their notes indicate that running or standing on a vibrating platform causes your bones to experience sheer stress, and that stress can effect the release of the hormones the play a factor in your metabolism. The study points to the bones as endocrine organs, because they secrete hormones that tell the liver and the pancreas what to do.

"I think the exciting thing about this study is that it shows you can apply the mechanical load in a different way. Whether you are walking on a treadmill, running on a treadmill or standing on a vibrating platform, it's still a mechanical load," said McGee-Lawrence.

If vibrating your way to weight loss sounds too good to be true, it just might be. The scientists are wary that, like the heavy pounding that results from using a jackhammer, WBV may actually damage the skeleton and rest of the body.

"These results are encouraging," McGee-Lawrence said. "However, because our study was conducted in mice, this idea needs to be rigorously tested in humans to see if the results would be applicable to people."

The research was published in the Endocrine Society's journal Endocrinology.