Good vibrations?

“Fit in 15 minutes” – just 15 minutes training to get the same results as in a one and a half hours of sweaty workouts – that’s one of the promises of the “vibroplate”, “powerplate” and similar gyms promoting doing exercises on a vibrating plate. “Clever in 15 minutes” might be another claim they are making soon. Researchers in the Netherlands tested whether sitting on a vibrating plate could improve cognition in young, healthy adults. We know that exercise can improve memory, reasoning and problem solving, so-called “executive functions”. However, how can people who are unable to physically exercise reap the same benefits? The researchers tested whether passively sitting on a chair mounted on a vibrating platform – called whole body vibration – could improve executive functions. They found that after two minutes of such whole body vibration, volunteers performed better on a color-word interference test. In this test, participants are shown cards with 20 color names, each printed in one of five colors. However, the ink color of each word is different from the color name. The participants are asked to name the ink color of the word as fast as possible. In the study, participants were quicker in naming the correct ink colors after vibration. But they only improved if they took this test, designed to measure attention and inhibition, immediately after the end of vibrations. They did not improve if another two-minute test, measuring working memory, was done in between. And they also did not score any better on the working memory test.

The researchers suggest that vibrations might stimulate skin receptors that respond to vibrations. They send signals to a region of the brain strongly connected to the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in cognition and the processing of information. However, it is yet to early to add “become Einstein in 15 minutes” to the claims of vibration gyms. The observed improvement only lasts for a short while, less than a minute and only for a specific type of cognition, attention. And the researchers themselves suggest that it is necessary to test how long the vibration sessions have to be, and how often they have to be repeated, to see any strong effects on cognition. But in the long run, whole body vibration might turn out to be clinically relevant, and help people unable to exercise to at least have some of the benefits of going to the gym. For everyone else, the best reason to go to the gym in the meantime probably remains to simply get fit.

Original research paper in PLOS One

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