Saturday, December 27, 2008

Fidgeting and weight loss

I got a pedometer that actually works this holiday season. I discovered not only do I get well over half of my recommended 10,000 steps in a 90 minute Jazzercise workout (did that yesterday), but also that I don't sit still very long. This reminded me of a study I wrote about some time ago, so I thought I'd share it with you that you might consider the health benefits of racing around looking for your keys etc. as you consider your New Year's Resolution List (1. Fidget more, 2. Run upstairs to answer the phone instead of putting the handset on the table next to your recliner, etc.).

Consider inclinometers and triaxial accelerometers. Gizmos found in the instrument panel of a fighter jet that were sewn for this study into the high-tech underwear encasing the more or less active behinds of twenty Minnesotans. While all of the subjects were self-proclaimed 'couch potatoes,' half were lean and half were mildly obese. Dr. James Levine and colleagues then recorded 25 million underwear-generated data points on posture and movement from each subject over ten days. The Mayo Clinic investigators believe the results may explain why some persons tend to put on the pounds more easily than others.

Healthy adults gain weight when energy in (food) exceeds energy out (daily activity). While energy expenditure occurs during exercise, a large part of our daily calorie output is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis or NEAT. Dr. Levine defines NEAT as "physical activities other than volitional exercise, such as the activities of daily living, fidgeting, spontaneous muscle contraction, and maintaining posture when not recumbent." The more you twitch, squirm, and generally fussbudget through your daily activities, the more calories you burn in this unexpected way. The researchers discovered that their obese volunteers were seated daily for 164 minutes more than were lean participants. In fact, if the heavier group had demonstrated the same NEAT behavior as their skinnier colleagues, they would've burned off an extra 350 calories per day or the equivalent of 7 pounds per year.

The Mayo endocrinologists had previously conducted research on the effects of overeating on NEAT. They stuffed an extra 1000 calories/day over 8 weeks into sixteen normal weight volunteers. During the two month feeding extravaganza, the subjects increased their energy output in subtle but significant ways, burning the majority of the extra calories as NEAT. Based on these studies, the researchers theorize that while obese individuals may "have a biologically determined posture allocation" (genetically inclined to hit the recliner), perhaps they can be taught to consciously overcome their torpid destiny with increased body busyness as part of a weight loss program.


Eric, AKA The Pragmatic Caregiver said...

torpid, indeed. *harrumph*

I love the Levine lab research. He's a fascinating character, and his treadmill desk thing is totally inspired - I'm building one as we speak.

I maintain I'm *evolutionarily adapted* to a slighty-recumbent seated posture - I have a broad pelvis, with the critical fracture points well-protected by advanced padding, covered with a soft layer of downy fur that enables better gliding when adjusting position. My ability to sit still for long periods of time, intently focussed on acquiring information, is of value in a resource environment such as ours that rewards information collection and sharing. Between the Provigil (awakeness/alertness) and the DDAVP (improved information retention and reduced urinary frequency), I am the modern equivalent of the ultimate information predator. When I'm sitting perfectly still absorbing information, I'm not being sedentary, I'm conserving valuable glucose to support the relatively large cerebral mass relative to other primates.

The only problem with this strategy is that I knew what he meant when my doctor described me as "a pleasant young man appearing younger than stated age, of obese bodily habitus". Ouch.


Ruth said...

I am having difficulty with 10,000 steps these days as well as with stairs. So I must perfect my fidgeting. Eric's comment is hilarious!

Anonymous said...

Would you mind telling what brand the pedometer that actually works is? I've had a couple that were useless!

femail doc said...

This is a Sportline 340 Walking Advantage pedometer. Sorry to say it got crappy reviews on Amazon, mainly for its inability to stay on. I clip mine inside my pocket or at the waistline and only have troubles when visiting the bathroom on 'business.' Gotta' take it off then.