The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fidgety way to stay slim
- Study shows calories burn in everyday activities

Jan. 28: Fat + fidget = lean.

This one's for all us fat folks who've tried starving, gymming, jogging, swimming, running, dieting and god knows what other 'ing to shake off the flab.

Now it's time to try ' never mind if you got spanked as a child for it 'fidgeting.

Researchers have found that obese people tend to be much less fidgety than lean ones and spend at least two hours more each day just sitting still. The extra motion by lean people is enough to burn about 350 extra calories a day, which could add up to 10-30 pounds a year.

'There are these absolutely staggering differences between people who are lean and people who are obese,' said James A. Levine of Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who headed the most detailed study ever conducted of mundane bodily movements.

'The amount of this low-grade activity is so substantial that it could, in and of itself, account for obesity quite easily.'

Fidgeting during a meeting, standing up to stretch, jumping off the couch to change channels, strolling to the bus stop, getting up to vacuum and engaging in minor physical activities can make the difference between being lean and obese, the study, published in today's issue of the journal, Science, said.

By walking or washing the dishes, a person boosts his 'non-exercise activity thermogenesis' or NEAT.

'Our study shows that the calories people burn in their everyday activities --- their NEAT --- are far, far more important in obesity than previously imagined.'

Levine and his colleagues also discovered that people appear to be born with a propensity to be either fidgety or listless, indicating it would take special measures to convert the naturally sedentary into the restless --- especially in a society geared toward a couch-potato existence.

'Some may say this is a story of doom and gloom --- that people with obesity have no choice. It's all over. I would argue exactly the opposite,' Levine said.

'There's a massive beacon of hope here. But it's going to take a massive, top-down approach to change the environment in which we live to get us up and be lean again.'

Other researchers agreed, saying the study provides powerful evidence that a major cause of the obesity epidemic is the pattern of desk jobs, car pools, suburban sprawl, and other environmental and lifestyle factors that discourage physical activity. And despite generations of parents' admonitions to the contrary, people should be encouraged to be fidgety.

For the study, Levine and his colleagues developed a system that can detect the smallest tap of a toe --- high-tech underwear resembling bicycle pants and sports bras or T-shirts embedded with sensors, originally designed for fighter jets, that take measurements every half-second.

Ten men and 10 women, half of them lean and the other half mildly obese, wore the garments 24 hours a day for 10 days as they went about their usual routines. They went to Mayo Clinic every morning to be weighed, get new undergarments so researchers could download data from the previous day's undergarments, and get meals for the day, so the researchers knew what they were eating. All considered themselves 'couch potatoes' because they eschewed regular exercise.

Based on millions of bits of data, the researchers determined that each day, the lean subjects spent at least 150 more minutes moving in some way than the obese subjects.

The findings should encourage efforts to create an environment that makes it easier for people to get moving, Levine said. In the meantime, individuals should be encouraged to move more on their own.

'We can begin to say to people, 'Yes, it would be good if you went jogging, and it would be good if you went to the gym. But it's also good to keep getting up, moving around.' Fidgeting and doing all those small things will make a difference,' said Paul Trayhurn of the University of Liverpool in England.


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