Someone once told me that a ballerina exercises just by standing still. The muscles involved in remaining erect can work hard just by keeping balance while motionless.
Scientists have found intriguing evidence that one major reason so many people are overweight these days may be as close as the seat of their pants. Literally. According to the researchers, most of us sit too much.
In most cases, exercise alone, according to a team of scientists at the University of Missouri, isn't enough to take off those added pounds. The problem, they say, is that all the stuff we've heard the last few years about weight control left one key factor out of the equation. When we sit, the researchers found, the enzymes that are responsible for burning fat just shut down.
This goes way beyond the common sense assumption that people who sit too much are less active and thus less able to keep their weight under control. It turns out that sitting for hours at a time, as so many of us do in these days of ubiquitous computers and electronic games and 24-hour television, attacks the body in ways that have not been well understood.
Almost everything I do at work is on a computer. So I sit. And sit. And sit some more. I know it's not good but what can you do?
"It was hard to believe at first," said Marc Hamilton, associate professor of biomedical sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia and leader of the research team. He said the team didn't expect to find a strong signal when they began researching what happens to fat when we remain seated. But the effect, both in laboratory animals and humans, turned out to be huge.
The solution, Hamilton said, is to stand up and "putter."
The research was published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Diabetes, and it will be presented by Hamilton's post-doctoral researcher, Theodore Zderic, at the upcoming Second International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health in Amsterdam.
Back in 1999 I worked for a construction contractor as a foreman. I worked right along with the crew but the main thing was that I did not sit down except for lunch. In six weeks I lost 25 pounds.
That's when that real bad enzyme, "bigbootyase", kicks in.
The researchers also took a close look at a fat-splitting enzyme, called lipase, that is critical to the body's ability to break down fat.
After the animals remained seated for several hours, "the enzyme was suppressed down to 10 percent of normal," Hamilton said. "It's just virtually shut off."
So it is not just one thing, it is a combination of movements that work. I am back on the treadmill but it will take more than that.
The results from the animal studies were very convincing, he said, and human experiments were just as compelling. The researchers injected a small needle into the muscles of the human volunteers and extracted a small sample for biopsy. Once again, the enzyme was suppressed while the humans remained seated. That resulted in retention of fat, and it also resulted in lower HDL, the "good cholesterol," and an overall reduction in the metabolic rate.
[...]"When we think about the postural muscles that are mostly in the legs and back, these are big, powerful muscles," he said. "We're talking probably 20 pounds of muscle in each leg. That's a lot of muscle that can be engaged in routine activities," including burning fat. But they can't do that without the enzyme that is suppressed while seated. .
Not bad advice.
Much is still not known, including such fundamental issues as how long the effect lasts from getting up and moving around for a while, but Hamilton expects the answers to come fairly soon.
"There is going to be a flood of research on this in the next couple of years, and not just by us," he said. "This has raised the attention of a lot of great scientists around the world who have begun doing their own studies."
In the meantime, he suggests, we do the obvious. Take the time to get up and "putter" for a while. If his research turns out to be on the mark, it could save your life.