Skip to comments.Study Ties Weight Loss to Restlessness and Fidgeting
Posted on 01/27/2005 4:56:02 PM PST by neverdem
Overweight people have a tendency to sit, while lean ones have trouble holding still and spend two hours more a day on their feet, pacing around and fidgeting, researchers are reporting.
The difference translates into about 350 calories a day, enough to produce a weight loss of 30 to 40 pounds a year without trips to the gym - if only heavy people could act more restless, like light ones.
The difference in activity levels may be biological and inborn, the researchers say, the result of genetically determined levels of brain chemicals that govern a person's tendency to move around. It is the predisposition to be inactive that leads to obesity, and not the other way around, they suggest.
The findings, being published on Friday in the journal Science, are from a study in which researchers at the Mayo Clinic outfitted 10 lean people and 10 slightly obese ones - all of whom described themselves as sedentary - with devices that measured their body postures and movements every half second for 10 days.
The director of the study, Dr. James Levine, said the findings offered hope to overweight people, suggesting that a series of relatively small changes in their daily behavior could help to control weight. He said that increases in obesity in recent decades could be traced more to declines in daily exercise - more time spent in cars, behind desks and in front of computers and televisions - than to increases in eating.
In an environment that allows people to be sedentary, those with a biological predisposition to sit still will do so. The restless ones will find ways to burn off calories, even if it means walking around their desks.
"People with obesity are tremendously efficient," Dr. Levine said, "Any opportunity not to waste energy, they take. If you think about it that way, it all makes sense. As soon as they have an opportunity to sit down and not waste those calories, they do."
Other researchers were not so sure that people would be able to put the findings to use. Dr. Eric Ravussin, an obesity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., said that since the tendency to sit still seems to be biological, it might not be easy for obese people to change their ways.
"The bad news," he said, "is that you cannot tell people, 'Why don't you sit less and be a little more fidgety,' because they may do it for a couple of hours but won't sustain it for days and weeks and months and years."
It might be possible to help people stay lean by making their environments less conducive to sitting, though that would take a major societal commitment to rebuilding the kind of neighborhoods in which people can walk to markets instead of "the remote shopping mall with 10,000 parking spots and everybody is fighting for the handicapped one," Dr. Ravussin said.
A participant in the study, Othelmo da Silva, 41, an academic adviser at Rochester Community and Technical College, said he was overweight and felt encouraged by the study and the idea that people could lose weight by moving around more and did not necessarily have to join a gym. As for the idea that the tendency to sit still might be genetic, he said no "lazy genes" had been identified and added, "I personally believe in self-determination over detrimental biological predisposition."
Dr. Jules Hirsch, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University, said studies in the 1950's had first suggested that obese people were less fidgety than thin ones. One study, of young women playing tennis, showed that although overweight and thin women played equally well, the overweight ones wasted less motion hitting the ball. They were seemingly more efficient, and probably burned fewer calories.
Dr. Hirsch said some people were probably born with, or developed at an early age, a "greater efficiency at caloric storage," from eating more or moving less.
"This phenomenon helps store energy but is a great risk factor for the development of obesity," he said. But until it is understood better, he said, "we're not apt to understand the overall obesity problem any better."
For 10-day periods, the subjects in the study wore suits of special underwear fitted with devices that measured their posture and movements, taking them off for only about 15 minutes a day to shower and get a fresh set from the researchers.
The top was either an undershirt or a sports bra made of Lycra, and the bottom was a risqué-looking pair of shorts with openings at the crotch and backside so that the garment would not have to be lowered during the day, which would have disturbed the sensors.
Dr. Levine said he designed the outfit himself, with a colleague.
"We had to be very creative," he said. "And you have to test them for comfort. I would put them on top of my suit. Mayo has a very strict dress code. Nothing gave me more pleasure than to wander around with this bizarre underwear over my suit. No one could do anything. It was an N.I.H.-funded study."
Dr. Levine said that a few months ago the study findings inspired him to redesign his office. His computer is now mounted over a treadmill, and he walks 0.7 miles an hour while he works.
"I converted a completely sedentary job to a mobile one," he said.
The walking is addictive and "terribly good fun," he said, adding that he has had 30 or 40 requests from colleagues at Mayo for treadmill desks like his.
Has he lost weight? He does not know.
"I'm a relatively lean bloke," he said. "I never weigh myself. You'll think I'm a bad nutritionist. I don't recommend people weigh themselves all the time. It's not a healthy thing to do."
I find this to be very true. Wish there was something besides illegal or dangerous substances that would get me to be more active....
I think I'm going to blame PJ for my recent weight gain. All of these hours of waiting for the next editon of the FUnnies.
Maybe this explains why lately I can only sleep about 5 hours per 48 hour period since I've started to get back into better shape lately. =/
Interesting study though.
Nothing new. If someone bounces around, fidgets, paces, and cant relax they will burn more calories than the person who can actually set and relax.
At some point you just have to say, even if life is longer, it's not worth it.
In my experience this is true. Wish I could give some of my energy away! But then it is nice to eat anything and everything I want.
Just claim you can't pay attention, and the doc will have you on speed, courtesy of your HMO.
Of course you could try my favorite exercise machine: The Rancilio Silvia: http://www.coffeegeek.com/reviews/consumer/rancilio_silvia
Hmmm, FReeping on a treadmill
FReepmail me if you want on or off my health and science ping list.
My husband says I even fidget in my sleep & occasionally sleep walk. Only problem is that when I sleep walk I sleep eat so I guess any calories I burn sleep walking are more than off set by my eating while asleep.
As a person who does 20 thousand plus steps a day I tend to get irritated enough to burn more when I get behind slow walkers. I am always thinking they are walking like a fat person ;^)
Well, no joke, I was trying to figure out how to fit my laptop on my treadmill the other day....
Yard work? I'm 55 years old, and have the same weight, and profile as I did when I was 21.
Im going to encourage my wife to keep making me nervous
While I'm out of shape right now(working on that), I am one of these people that just can't sit still, and always get yelled at for it.
That got me fidgety and restless--or hot and bothered, anyway. :)
What's she made of? Soylent Green?
Unfortunately I learned how to take life easy and relax. Its a real bear trying to lose the weight I gained while learning.
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