Can I lose weight with vibrations?

Yes, vibration works to help you lose fat and weight - but only if you exercise and follow a sensible diet as well.

The vibration plate machine, which has a platform that vibrates while the person stands on it, has been making its presence felt in workout studios and even homes here.

Since one brand called Power Plate was first sold here six years ago, the number of dedicated Power Plate studios here has grown to six, while that of gyms that stock these machines has risen to 10, said its sole distributor Positive Impact.

It has also sold more than 300 such machines to individuals. Each costs between $5,000 and $23,000, depending on the size of the machine.

Health and wellness retail company Oto has also developed a machine based on whole body vibration. A spokesman said it has sold 25,000 units of the FLABeLOS, at $1,198 each, to individuals here since 2007.

The Power Plate studios combine pilates, kickboxing and core, stretch, toning and cardiovascular exercises with the vibration plate machine. Classes cost between $25 per group session and $90 for a one-to-one session. Each session typically lasts 40 to 45 minutes.

The principle behind this is something called 'acceleration training', in which you need a shorter amount of time to burn the same amount of calories.

Exercising on a vibration plate may also have positive effects on strength, stability and bone density, said doctors and Power Plate master trainer Tay Koon Hua.

This can be helpful for, say, those who have been injured. Exercise on the vibration plate is low-impact and lets them build up their injured muscles or joints, they added.

So far, at least two recent studies have shown that it does lead to increased fat loss.

But there are caveats. Furthermore, no long-term studies on the safety of whole body vibration exercise beyond eight months have been done yet.

Building muscle mass

Medical and physiotherapy experts interviewed said standing on a vibration plate subjects the body to many small vibrations per second.

This causes the small muscles in the whole body to contract more and the tendons and ligaments to stretch more than when a person is standing on stable ground. This is because the body has to adjust constantly to the motion.

This helps build up muscle mass, strength and flexibility, said the medical experts.

Muscle cells burn more calories than other cells because they are responsible for all movements, including subtle ones such as blinking.

So the increased muscle mass will help the body to burn more calories, leading to the loss of fat.

Dr Daniel Wai, director of the obesity and metabolic unit at Singapore General Hospital, said: 'The actual amount of calories burnt after one hour of such exercise (on a vibrating plate) is only around 100calories, but as muscles are built up, it helps increase the amount of energy we burn in the resting state.'

Dr Roger Tian, consultant sports physician and deputy medical director at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre, said exercising on an unstable platform, such as the vibration plate, increases muscle use as the body tries to maintain stability.

This additional muscle use increases expenditure of calories.

Mr Tay, 39, a former physical education teacher who owns a dedicated Power Plate studio and has shares in Positive Impact, said the machine will increase exercise intensity in two ways.

It helps the body to use more than 90 per cent of its muscles. It also increases the gravitational force by two to six times when a person works out on it. Hence, it will be more difficult for a person to perform exercises on the plate than on the ground.

He said: 'As more energy is needed to perform the same exercise, more calories are burnt on the vibrating plate.'

For these reasons, more body fat is lost when whole body vibration training is added to a diet or exercise regimen than either programme on its own or together, two studies have shown.

Both studies - one in Belgium and the other in the United States - were done by doctors and published in peer-reviewed journals.

In the Belgian study on 79 overweight patients published last year, doctors looked at the effect of long-term whole body vibration training on visceral fat.

Visceral fat is the fat surrounding the organs in the abdomen. Abdominal fat is made up of visceral fat and subcutaneous fat, which lies between the skin and the abdominal wall.

The patients were randomly divided into four groups. The first group received a low-calorie diet only, the second dieted and did traditional fitness training, including cardiovascular and weight exercises, the third dieted and followed a progressive Power Plate machine training programme, while the fourth was the control group.

After six months, the group which dieted and followed a Power Plate fitness regimen showed the largest percentage drop in body weight and in visceral fat.

Those in the diet and traditional fitness groups showed a slightly smaller decrease in both measurements, while the control group had no significant change.

In measurements taken at the end of the year-long study, after all participants had returned to their usual lifestyle, the group which exercised on the Power Plate machines was found to have maintained the amount of fat loss. However, the diet and fitness groups had reverted to their initial fat level.

The results were similar in the US study on 55 post-menopausal women, published in 2009. It compared the effects of no exercise, resistance training only and resistance training with whole body vibration.

At the end of eight months, the women who did not exercise gained 1.8 per cent of body fat, while those who did only resistance training lost 1.6 per cent and those who did both types of exercise lost 3 per cent.

Risk of internal injury

The same effect of burning more calories can be achieved without a vibration plate, said Dr Tian. A person can simply increase the duration or speed of his workout, he said.

Ms Loy Yijun, a senior physiotherapist at National University Hospital's centre for obesity management and surgery, said whole body vibration therapy alone would probably not lead to weight loss.

Her view is that vibration therapy aims to elicit a similar or superior response to resistance exercises by stimulating muscle reflexes and contractions.

Even if more fat is lost, a person's cardiovascular fitness may not be significantly improved.

The limitation primarily arises from the lack of a cardiovascular workout, which is essential to burning calories, she said.

Moreover, it is important to realise that vibration plate exercise may result in potential harmful effects, doctors said.

Adjunct Associate Professor Hee Hwan Tak, an orthopaedic surgeon at Singapore Medical Group, said: 'This exercise should be done with caution in the elderly or those with balance issues, for fear of falls.'

Soft tissues and body organs could be harmed by long-term vibration. For example, workers using vibration tools such as road drills can suffer from nerve damage to the hands due to chronic vibration. This is called 'vibration white finger' disease.

It is not known if long-term use of vibration plate machines will create similar problems.

Dr Wai said: 'We do not have studies that last longer than eight months, so do keep in mind that long-term safety is unclear.'

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