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Fidget Your Way to Fitness

Do you find yourself twiddling your thumbs or tapping your feet and fingers out of boredom? You may be taking part in what some experts call “incidental physical activity.” A study published last month took a look at physical movements people make that don’t involve formal exercise and what kind of role they may play in people’s health.

Some of the incidental activity they considered had more purpose than tapping toes, such as preparing dinner or pulling weeds in the yard.

What ultimately matters is, do these activities have an impact on our physical fitness? The key may be in something called VO2 max, which is a reference to the amount of oxygen a person can utilize during an intense exercise. While it is used to measure an athletes cardiovascular and endurance fitness level, it has also been seen as an important predictor of the risk for premature death.

It’s a proven fact that exercise improves your VO2 max, but researchers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario also wanted to see if incidental activity could be a factor as well. They recruited healthy, but sedentary and overweight, adult men and women and gave them devices (something called an accelerometer) to record the steps they took in a day. They also examined their other movements.

They wore the devices for four to seven days, with one being a weekend day. The researchers also determined their VO2 max. None of the volunteers did anything remotely close to what could be called exercise during this study. However, those who moved the most saw an increase in their VO2 max.

What to take from the study? Get moving! While the study isn’t saying that incidental activity is a replacement for exercise, it is saying that even the least bit of movement is an improvement.

In a similar study from 2008, researchers examined the movements of thin and obese women. What they found was the leaner women “fidgeted” more, meaning they stood up, walked around, etc. The authors actually said that the difference for the obese group if they adopted the habits of the lean group would have been 300 more calories burned each day.

(via: New York Times)

May 27th, 2011

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