Whole-Body Vibration & Bone Density: Part I

Exercise and nutrition are important aspects of health to focus on when trying to improve bone density. They provide the stimulation and building blocks needed to support healthy bones. Today, let’s take a look at a particular and, dare we say odd, type of exercise training: whole-body vibration.

Think we’re crazy? Bear with us.

 

What is whole-body vibration?

Whole-body vibration (WBV) is almost precisely what it sounds like: the application of short, continuous bursts of force that travel throughout your body.  

If you belong to a gym or health club, you may have seen various types of whole-body vibration equipment that look like loudly humming heavy-duty scales. Just step onto the platform, get into a chosen position (like a squat), and turn on the machine to start the vibrations.

Depending on the machine, the standing platform can vibrate between 20 and 50 times per second!

(If you’re having a hard time imagining this, two popular brands are PowerPlate and Bulletproof’s Vibe).

 

A brief refresher on exercise and bone health…

There’s a reason why weight-bearing activities are recommended for bone health: the load or force they provide our bones has a stimulating effect.

Without diving into the inner workings of our bone cells’ physiology, researchers have discovered our bones are adaptive tissues. Mechanical stimulation is a factor that influences our bones’ adaptive qualities tremendously.  

The more force, weight, and impact our bones experience…the more they adapt to be able to withstand more force, weight, and impact. They become denser and stronger.

The opposite applies: when bones are rarely exposed to physical stress…their bone-building cells don’t get the stimulation they need to support healthy bone metabolism. As we age, our natural bone metabolism becomes less efficient, making inactivity a threat to bone health.

For more details and examples of weight-bearing exercises for bone health, check out this article.

 

So, where does WBV come into play?

It all goes back to providing our bone-building cells (called osteoblasts) with mechanical stimulation. It’s pretty easy to see how weightlifting and jogging qualify as weight-bearing, impactful activities; their movements result in our joints absorbing force and shock.

You can think of WBV as applying more repetitions of force to your bones and joints on a smaller scale. 

Researchers have found that 25-30 vibrations per second (i.e., 30 Hz) at only 3-4mm high can have similar stimulating effects compared to exercises like jogging, jumping, and squatting with weight.

 

In which cases is WBV more beneficial than typical weight-bearing exercises?

It’s a great question. After all, wouldn’t it make sense to perform the activities that have demonstrated to produce a lot of force to stimulate bone-building cells?

If you have a normal or high bone mineral density (BMD) score, then it makes sense to go for those high-impact exercises. If you don’t, however, certain weight-bearing activities can be risky and dangerous.  

 

WBV is considered a safe option for those who:

  • have low BMD
  • cannot tolerate exercises of moderate- or high-intensity
  • are limited in terms of joint range of motion 

 

In Part II of this series, we’ll cover more practical information like what researchers have found to be ideal frequencies, durations, and positions for WBV to be most effective. 

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