Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Silicon Valley, California
Wanna lose weight? Get Up! Move Around!
This was originally in the NY Times
, but appeared in today's San Francisco Chronicle
Wanna lose weight? Get up! Move around!
Study says fidgety tendencies can help melt away pounds - Denise Grady, New York Times
Friday, January 28, 2005
Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic's endocrinology department walks on the treadmill as he works on his computer. Associated Press photo by Christina Paolucci
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 in findings published today.
The difference translates into about 350 calories a day, enough to produce a weight loss at least 20 pounds in one year without trips to the gym -- if only heavy people could act more restless, like thin 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, published in the journal Science, are from a study in which researchers at the Mayo Clinic outfitted 10 lean men and women and 10 slightly obese ones -- all of whom described themselves as "couch potatoes" -- with high-tech underwear carrying sensors that measured their body postures and movements every half second for 10 days on several occasions.
By the end of the study, which required a staff of 150, the researchers had collected 25 million pieces of data on each participant.
One thing that convinced the scientists that the activity levels were innate, and not the product of a person's being overweight or underweight, was that the levels did not change when the subjects were forced to gain or lose weight in different phases of the study. To make sure they knew exactly how many calories the subjects were eating, the researchers cooked all their meals for weeks at a time and had them pledge not to cheat. A total of 20,000 meals were prepared.
The director of the study, Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist and nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic, said the findings offered hope to overweight people, suggesting that relatively simple and painless changes in their daily behavior, like making an effort to walk more, could help 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, he said. In contrast, the restless ones will find ways to burn off calories, even if it means walking around their desks.
"People with obesity are tremendously efficient," 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."
Participants in the study went through three 11-week phases over a year or so in which their diets were carefully controlled to maintain, increase or decrease their weight. They were paid $2,000 at the end of each phase, for a total of $6,000.
Each phase included a 10-day period during which they had to wear the underwear with the sensors round the clock, taking it off for only about 15 minutes a day to shower and get a fresh set from the researchers.
Dr. Eric Ravussin, an obesity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., who wrote an essay in Science about Levine's study, said that because the tendency to sit still seemed 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."
But Dr. Rudolph Leibel, an obesity researcher at Columbia University Medical Center, said, "People can be taught and motivated to change their behavior in service of their health."
Leibel also noted that although it was plausible that the tendency to be inactive was biologically determined, it had not been proved.
Dr. Jules Hirsch, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University, said studies in the 1950s first suggested that obese people were less fidgety than thin ones. One study, of young women playing tennis, showed that although fat and thin ones played equally well, fat ones wasted less motion hitting the ball. They were seemingly more efficient and probably burned fewer calories.
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."
Levine, it should be noted, is no couch potato. He spoke to reporters while walking 0.7 mph on a treadmill in his office, where he's set up a computer above the machine so he can walk and work at the same time.
"I converted a completely sedentary job to a mobile one," he said.
Chronicle news services contributed to this report.
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Highest weight: 265 pounds, size 24/26 (May 1990)
May 1991: 174 pounds (-91 lbs)
September 1996: 155 pounds (-110 lbs)
*LIVING at: 145-149 pounds, size 4/6 (-116/120 lbs)
*Maintenance = LIVING.
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