SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) — The workhorse of the gym, treadmills are a staple of cardiovascular exercise, helping people burn calories and get in shape. A new generation of treadmills developed in the Bay Area is using NASA technology to help users defy gravity.

The benefits are especially significant for patients with neuromuscular disorders and orthopedic injuries.

The Alter-G Treadmill looks like a bubble-box. Users pull up the plastic cover, zip it around their waist, and use air pressure to literally take the weight off.

“It allows you to run or walk anywhere (with) 20 percent to 100 percent less of your body weight,” explained Monica Garza, executive director of the D.R. Semmes Family YMCA in San Antonio. “So it’s very much like being on air.”

That’s good news for Brad Stephenson who has muscular dystrophy. “You’re able to un-weight your body,” said Stephenson. “So it just feels like a balloon blowing up underneath you. It sort of lifts you up and gives you support.”

Stephenson spends much of his time in a wheelchair. Getting a workout would be much more difficult without treadmills such as Alter-G. “I depend on it now,” he said.

The Alter-G is also helping people with sports injuries rehab with less pain. “It’s very similar to doing a water aerobic workout, where you’re getting (less) impact to your knees, your ankles, or your hips,” said Garza.

Scientists at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View came up with the original idea of an antigravity treadmill. The initial purpose was to help astronauts prevent bone loss and muscle deterioration in outer space. The company that makes the Alter-G is located in Fremont.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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