A new study on mice suggests that whole body vibration—in which a person lies or stands on a vibrating platform to mimic the effects of exercise—might be just as beneficial in promoting weight loss, and in preventing and treating type 2 diabetes, as lacing up your running shoes and hitting the open road.
“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,” says Meghan E. McGee-Lawrence, Ph.D., of Augusta University, who is a lead author of the study published in the journal Endocrinology. “The results are surprising and encouraging.”
The results came from a study on two types of mice and three intervention groups, with six to 10 mice in each group, McGee-Lawrence says. One type of mice was normal and another was obese, with type 2 diabetes. Those two types were split into groups with one running daily on a treadmill for 45 minutes and another undergoing whole body vibration, or WBV. (a third group was a control group that were sedentary, and did not undergo WBV or the treadmill.)
After 12 weeks researchers discovered that mice who underwent WBV and those who spent time on the treadmill enjoyed similar metabolic benefits.
“Both groups had increased insulin sensitivity and the obese mice who did WBV gained less weight than obese mice who did nothing,” McGee-Lawrence says. “Another benefit was that those mice who underwent WBV, and exercised on the treadmill, also showed increased markers for bone formation and improved muscle size.”
While this is good news, how might it translate into improving treatment for type 2 diabetes in human beings?
The first thing to consider is that regular exercise is routinely and loudly touted as an effective way of managing and even preventing type 2 diabetes.
“Regular activity is a key part of managing diabetes along with proper meal planning, taking medications as prescribed, and stress management,” says the American Diabetes Association on a web page dedicated to extolling the benefits of exercise for diabetics. “When you are active, your cells become more sensitive to insulin so it can work more efficiently. Your cells also remove glucose from the blood using a mechanism totally separate from insulin during exercise.” The page goes on to say that exercise “lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke, burns calories to help you lose or maintain weight,” and much more.
More than the idea of “exercise is good” for you in an “eat your lima beans” kind of way, exercise for type 2 diabetics is clinically proven to be medically beneficial.
“High-quality studies establishing the importance of exercise and fitness in diabetes were lacking until recently, but it is now well established that participation in regular physical activity (PA) improves blood glucose control and can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes, along with positively affecting lipids, blood pressure, cardiovascular events, mortality, and quality of life,” according to a study published by the National Institutes of Health in 2010. “Structured interventions combining PA and modest weight loss have been shown to lower type 2 diabetes risk by up to 58% in high-risk populations. Most benefits of PA on diabetes management are realized through acute and chronic improvements in insulin action, accomplished with both aerobic and resistance training.”
The same study also noted, however, in its very first sentence, that: “Although physical activity is a key element in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes, many with this chronic disease do not become or remain regularly active.”
This raises the issue that many people with type 2 diabetes do not exercise regularly. Some might suggest it’s because they lack will power or a sense of self-discipline. However, one study from the University of Colorado in 2015 comparing exercise in women with and without diabetes, suggests that exercising is physically harder for type 2 diabetics than for people without diabetes.
“Although the study did not determine the exact cause of the findings, possible explanations include that people with diabetes cannot convert the nutrients from their food into fuel for their muscles as easily and that their bodies do not respond properly to exercise by, for example, redirecting blood flow to the muscles being used,” according to an article about the study.
This idea is not lost on McGee-Lawrence.
“We know that exercise is good for you,” she says. “Some people, though, can’t participate in regular exercise, for a variety of reasons. That’s where WBV might play a positive role in improving their lives.”
McGee-Lawrence says the next step in continuing this initial research is to extend the testing to generic mice, then see if the results translate into humans.
“There have been studies comparing being sedentary with WBV, but there haven’t been many studies directly comparing exercise and WBV,” she says. “That makes this very promising for finding a way to really help people, and that’s great.”