Healthcare professionals involved in caring for seniors are often faced with getting their patients to exercise. But many elderly simply aren’t able to perform much physical activity without pain; others may be in post-op recovery or lack the muscle strength and balance to do anything physical. This poses a dilemma for physical and occupational therapists working with inactive seniors.
Alba Gomez Cabello, author of a recent short-term study on exercise, believes there may be a solution. Placing ambulatory adults on a vibrating platform may help them become slightly stronger, faster and more agile.
Seniors need regular exercise to maintain good health, noted Cabello, but for those who can’t perform aerobic exercise, this vibration technique "could be an easy and quick treatment to improve physical fitness."
Patients simply stand on a floor-mat sized platform. Mild vibrations move up through the feet to stimulate the entire body. The patient can stand or squat, and bending the knees “helps transmit the vibrations,” said Cabello, who studies growth and exercise at the University of Zaragoza, Spain.
Cabello’s Spanish government-funded study enlisted 24 men and women over the age of 65. Each was asked to perform 10 squats held for 45 seconds on a vibrating platform, with a minute’s rest between squats. The routine was repeated three times a week for 11 weeks. The study also included 25 people who performed no vibration exercises.
Results published in the journal Maturitas showed mild improvement. Seniors who performed the vibration exercises averaged two additional reps of upper and lower body strength exercises. They also added half an inch to their lower body flexibility, and walked 33 yards slightly faster than before their vibration training. "Whole body vibration is an easy and quick way of exercise that stimulates muscles and improves fitness," said Cabello.
Theoretically, vibrations help activate muscles, strengthen bones and improve circulation in people of all ages. Another recent study revealed that vibration platforms could be used in nursing homes to help improve balance in seniors. Experts warn that while some studies show vibration therapy may improve balance and muscle tone, these exercises won’t prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women.
Some suggest the need for further study. "This showed an improvement in motor performance on simple tasks," said Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, who studies aging and physical activity at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and who was not involved in the study. "That doesn't necessarily correlate with quality of life."
To evaluate vibration exercise’s real benefit to older adults, Chodzko-Zajko suggests one look at how whole body vibrations influence chronic conditions like heart disease, as well as mental health, depression and anxiety.
The jury’s still out on any absolute or guaranteed benefits for seniors using vibration exercise machines. That said, there are some benefits to whole body vibration. While Chodzko-Zajko's 82-year-old mother uses a whole body vibration machine to "loosen up her joints," he advises her to continue her regular exercise routine.
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