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Anti-gravity and treadmills … How does that work?
The technology was originally conceived in the '90s by two inventors to design effective exercise regimens for NASA’s astronauts. Then it was adapted by AlterG, a company based in Fremont, Calif., for use in training and rehabilitation.
An anti-gravity treadmill looks like your typical gym machine, except for one difference: an air-filled bag that fits around a person’s torso and lower extremities. And that’s where the magic happens.
Users wear shorts that zipper into the air chamber. Then an airtight seal is formed and the chamber inflates. The user then gets lifted slightly, reducing the amount of body weight the legs have to carry, thus allowing users to walk or run at less than their actual weight.
How much less? As low as 20 percent of their body weight, effectively giving them the weightlessness they would have on the moon.
From the moon … to Metairie, La.
Physical therapist Robbie Porche started out with one anti-gravity treadmill in his southern Louisiana physical therapy clinic. Now he has three. Porche says anti-gravity treadmills have given very overweight patients, who are struggling to slim down, a new outlook on breaking a sweat.
“If they are overweight, it has taken a very long time to get in the condition they are in. It actually brings back that feeling of how it was before they gained the weight. That’s motivation.” He adds, “Patients were actually increasing their time on the AlterG, and then they would start fussing when we would have to kick them off it.”
Barbara Wheat, who has had a full and partial knee replacement, is one of those patients. Unable to exert herself without pain, she struggled with any form of exercise.
“I just felt like I can’t do it. It’s going to hurt. I’m too tired. I don’t want to be bothered.”
But after trying out the anti-gravity treadmill, Wheat says, “Little by little, I gained confidence. I stayed longer and started burning more calories. It just started working for me. I was a linebacker. In the AlterG, I was only a half a linebacker.”
Experts say one of the treadmill's biggest benefits is reducing stress on weakened or injured joints.
Henry Knoll, who suffers from osteoarthritis in both knees, has rekindled a dream of running again. “In 2004 I stopped exercising and I got up to 306 pounds. As a kid I could run distances, and it would never ever bother me. I’d like to be able to get back to that.”
The anti-gravity treadmill may be one small step in the journey of weight loss, but it’s a huge step in helping people lead healthier lives.