Monday, January 31, 2005
Overweight? Maybe You Just Don't Fidget Enough
Overweight? Maybe You Just Don't Fidget Enough, Researchers Say
Pacing and wriggling during the day can determine whether one is lean,
By Rosie Mestel, Times Staff Writer
The difference between being obese or lean may be due to how much a person
is apt to stand, pace, wriggle and shift about over the course of a day, a
team of scientists reported in an intensive study of the consequences of
The researchers, who published their findings today in the journal
Science, also suggested the amount of these mundane daily movements may be
genetically ingrained — and that this would explain why some people could
get away with being slouches without gaining weight, whereas others,
ostensibly no more lazy, became plump.
Although this means some people are more likely to become overweight in
today's sedentary society, it does not mean they are fated to, said the
study's principal investigator, Dr. James Levine, a consultant
endocrinologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,
The extra energy burned by the fidgety, lean group was about 350 calories
a day — well within the reach of most people. The extra calorie burn
amounts to at least 10 pounds a year.
In the study, 20 volunteers — 10 lean and 10 mildly obese — were monitored
for 10 days in their homes as they went about their normal daily routines.
All of the participants considered themselves to be "couch potatoes."
The study involved 150 scientists and other personnel to prepare
calorie-controlled meals, monitor subjects, analyze data and conduct other
Each participant wore a special, high-tech set of underwear, which were
rigged with sensors and data loggers originally designed to monitor jet
fighter motion. The underwear could track most body movements.
Fresh undergarments were supplied each day.
Data from the used underwear were downloaded each day to a computer.
"This enabled us to gain a window into lean and obese people's lives that
had hitherto been invisible," Levine said.
The scientists found that even though all members of the study considered
themselves to be lazy, the obese ones spent 164 more minutes sitting each
day than the lean subjects.
There was the possibility that the obese group fidgeted less simply
because they were overweight.
To test the idea, the scientists instructed the obese group to lose
weight. But even after doing so, they still moved around less. This
suggested that they were innately more sedentary than the lean group — a
tendency that might be the cause of their obesity.
The scientists overfed the lean group to see if they would slow down more
as they fattened up. They remained just as fidgety as before.
"I think it's really interesting — and it fits in well with the idea that
the difference between obesity and leanness is very small, just a little
bit of activity here and there," said James Hill, director of the
University of Colorado's Center for Human Nutrition in Denver.
Hill said that burning 350 calories was equivalent to taking about 7,000
extra steps a day.
"It's really not that hard," he said. "If you have this natural tendency
to fidget, that's an advantage to you, but if you don't, don't despair.
You can intentionally get some of that physical activity back into your
day by walking."
Levine recommended that people who were not constantly on the move as a
matter of habit make a few tiny changes to accomplish the same end.
"It wouldn't do any harm to do a little vacuuming before work," he said.
"Park in parking lot B and have an extra walk to the office."
Levine said that instead of a desk and chair, his office is outfitted with
a treadmill mounted with a computer.
The treadmill is set at a leisurely 0.7 mph, and he now types as he
"I used to sit … 10 hours a day," he said. "Now I'm walking 10 hours a
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
YOU CAN'T CONTROL HOW MUCH YOU FIDGET...BUT YOU CAN CONTROL HOW MUCH TIME YOU WALK.
NO CAR THURSDAYS...BECAUSE IT'S A HEALTHIER WAY TO LIVE.