Who’s zooming who

Fidget those pounds away

Want to lose weight? Try fidgeting. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic have just published a study in which they outfitted 10 skinny men and women — and 10 overweight ones — with sensor-equipped underwear that measured, with minute precision, how much they moved around during the day. The results? The overweight people tended to sit still all day, while the skinny ones would pace and fidget, spending two hours more on their feet each day. As the New York Times reports:

The difference translates into about 350 calories a day, enough to produce a weight loss of 30 to 40 pounds in one year without trips to the gym - if only heavy people could act more restless, like thin ones.

Even more interestingly, one’s activity level predicts one’s weight, and not vice versa — or, more simply, the skinny people seemed to be innately predisposed to fidget. When they were forced by the scientists to gain weight, the skinny people still kept up their fidgety ways. (Amazingly, to ensure they knew precisely who many calories the participants were eating, the scientists had a 150-strong staff actually cook meals for the participants for weeks at a time.) This finding is kind of sucky, though, because as one scientist noted ….

… 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,” Dr. Ravussin 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.”

Either way, it’s interesting news for me. I’m a pretty slender guy, but I never formally exercise; after gym class stopped being mandatory in grade 11, I have pretty much avoided every playing any sports whatsoever, and that was 18 years ago. But I fidget like a psychopath — so wildly and spastically that I when I work in an office, I actually kind of freak out my officemates — and my normal walking speed is easily twice that of people around me; plus, since I live in New York and never drive anywhere, I walk really long distances every day. I used to figure that my weight was inherited from my paternal grandfather, who also was skinny. But now I’m interested to know: Precisely how energy do I burn off with my ADD-like fidgeting?

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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