Study of 20 Subjects by 150 Researchers Finds Fidgeting Fitness Friendly; No Agreement on Implications

Warning: common-sense incompatibility ahead. Abandon all common sense now.
This just in: moving burns more calories than sitting still, and moving more can result in weight loss! How surprising. What is the value of this new, radical finding? Get overweight people to fidget more, and they can gain the degree of control over their weight that they may be missing.
A Mayo Clinic research staff of 150 cooked for and, using sensor-equipped underwear, monitored the physical movements of 10 lean couch potatoes and 10 “slightly obese” couch potatoes. The underwear—sports bras and briefs—was developed and tested by study director Dr. James Levine and “a colleague.” Dr. Levine wore the underwear around the Mayo clinic, over his suit, in order to “test them for comfort.” He says he especially enjoyed wearing them outside his clothes in the face of Mayo’s strict dress code.
Besides collecting underwear movement data, the team also studied whether the amount of each person’s fidgeting was “innate” or was itself caused by leanness or obesity. This necessitated using controlled diets to force subjects to gain or lose weight at different times.
Among the team’s findings:
-To control what research subjects eat while modifying their weight, you have to cook their every meal for months at a time as well as “have them pledge not to cheat.” This amounted to 20,000 meals.
-Fidgeting burns about 350 more calories a day than not fidgeting, “enough to produce a weight loss of 30 to 40 pounds in one year without trips to the gym.”
-Lean couch potatoes “innately” fidget more, always getting up to pace around. In contrast, the tendency to sit still also “seems to be biological…. It is the predisposition to be inactive that leads to obesity, and not the other way around.”
How this is news we can use:
Study director Dr. Levine: This offers hope to overweight people. They can make small changes “like making an effort to walk more and ride less” to control their weight. The obesity trend is due more to decreases in daily exercise for average people than to increases in eating. Putting his money where his mouth is (New York Times – use a login from here), he’s mounted his computer over a treadmill and walks while he works. Has he lost weight? He claims not to know. He was already thin.
On the other hand, says obesity researcher Dr. Eric Ravussin of Pennington Biomedical Research Center: “because the tendency to sit still seemed to be biological, …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.” He thinks it would help if neighborhoods and shopping districts were organized in ways that would encourage walking.
Yet another, presumably highly paid researcher, Dr. Rudolph Leibel of Columbia U. Medical Center, offers the third hand: “People can be taught and motivated to change their behavior in service of their health.” He says it is plausible, but not proved, that the urge to sit still is innate.
Rockefeller U. obesity researcher Dr. Jules Hirsch uses the fourth hand to point out that studies in the 1950s already found that thin people move more than heavy ones. He doesn’t think this new study is going to help increase understanding of the obesity problem.
What about the study participants? What do they think? One of the overweight subjects, a 41-year-old Minnesota man, said he finds the results encouraging. To him, these results mean he doesn’t have to join a gym to lose weight; he can lose weight by moving around more. He’s skeptical that there’s a sitting-still gene. “I personally believe in self-determination over detrimental biological predisposition,” he said.
One more study joins the cumulative proof that, look at it however scientifically you want, staying thin is just plain difficult. Just what we needed. Well, at least the 150 staffers and 20 subjects got paid. Maybe movement-sensing undies will yet prove to be a boon to society.

3 thoughts on “Study of 20 Subjects by 150 Researchers Finds Fidgeting Fitness Friendly; No Agreement on Implications”

  1. As a sequel, it would be interesting if they replaced the stationary, comfy lounge chairs with the exercise balls. It’s hard not to bounce or fidget when on those.

  2. Good idea! Then maybe they could lose more like 50 to 75 pounds a year without an exercise program. 😉

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