John Cleese’s classic “silly walk” burns more calories than a normal walk

Walking like John Cleese’s character, Mr. Teabag, in the famous “Monty Python”ministry of silly walks“The skit requires considerably more energy expenditure than normal walking because the movement is so inefficient, according to a new article published in the annual Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal. In fact, just 11 minutes a day of walking like Mr. tea bag was equivalent to 75 minutes of vigorously intense physical activity per week, presenting a novel means of improving cardiovascular fitness.

“Half a century ago, the [Ministry of Silly Walks] The play could have unknowingly addressed a powerful way to improve cardiovascular fitness in adults,” the authors wrote. “Had an initiative to promote inefficient movement been taken in the early 1970s, we might now be living in a healthier society.

However, the Christmas edition of BMJ is usually more cheerful. the diary keeps that the articles published there still “adhere to the same high standards of novelty, methodological rigor, informational transparency, and readability that are applied in the regular edition.” Past years have included articles on topics such as why 27 is not a dangerous age for musicians, the side effects of swallowing swords, and measuring toxicity from the concoction made in Roald Dahl’s 1981 book George’s Wonder Medicine. (In fact, it’s very toxic.) The most widely read was the infamous 1999 “MRI of the male and female genitalia during intercourse and female sexual arousal.” (Us wrote on paper in 2019 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of its publication).

monty pythonThe classic “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch.

As we have previously reported, the “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch first aired on 15 September 1970 on BBC One. It opens with Mr Teabag buying a newspaper on his way to work, which takes him a little longer than usual as his walk “has become pretty dumb recently.” He is met in his office by a gentleman named Mr. Putey (Michael Palin), who is seeking a Ministry grant to develop his own silly gait. Putey demonstrates the foolish advance on him, but Teabag isn’t immediately impressed. “Not particularly dumb, is it?” he says. “I mean, the right leg isn’t dumb at all, and the left leg just does an airborne half twist forward every alternate step.” Putey insists that a government grant would enable him to do the very silly walk. Teabag eventually offers him a research grant on the Anglo-French fool’s ride. The sketch cuts to a couple of Frenchmen demonstrating this “La Marche Futile”.

In 2020, two Dartmouth College scientists conducted a gait analysis of the various silly walks on display, publishing their findings in Gait and Posture magazine. They studied Putey’s and Teabag’s gait cycles in the original 1970 televised sketch video, as well as Teabag’s gait from a 1980 live performance in Los Angeles. They found that Teabag’s goofy walk is much more variable than a normal human walk, 6.7 times more, while Putey’s progress walk is only 3.3 times more variable.

But according to the authors of this latest article, the 2020 study didn’t measure the caloric expenditure of those silly steps. So Glenn Gaesser of Arizona State University and his coauthors decided to “fill this vital research gap.” The authors note that humans have evolved to “move more and more efficiently,” but when it comes to cardiovascular fitness, “movement inefficiency might be a desired trait.” They thought it might be possible to decrease energy efficiency by adopting a more inefficient gait, which would increase cardiovascular capacity without having to exercise for a longer period of time. They called their approach PEMPA: Physical Activity Effort Maximization Practice.

For his study, Gaesser et al. recruited 13 healthy adults (six women and seven men) aged 22 to 71 years. Subjects completed three walking trials on an indoor track: one walking with their usual gait and chosen pace, one walking (as best they could) in the Teabag manner, and a third attempting to walk like Putey. All subjects used portable metabolic measurement systems to measure oxygen uptake (ml/kg/min), energy expenditure (kcal/kg/min), and exercise intensity (MET). And it seems that most of the subjects enjoyed the experience.

Graph showing measured energy expenditure (kcal/kg/min; 1 kcal=4.18 kj) during habitual walking and ineffective walking for male and female participants.
Enlarge / Graph showing measured energy expenditure (kcal/kg/min; 1 kcal=4.18 kj) during habitual walking and ineffective walking for male and female participants.

G. A. Gaesser et al., 2022

“We did not measure minutes spent laughing or number of smiles as secondary outcomes of inefficient walking,” the authors wrote. “Smiling could not be observed during the inefficient walk tests because the participants’ mouths were obscured by the face mask worn during data collection. However, all participants smiled noticeably upon removal of the face mask. Additionally, participants’ guffaws were frequently noted by the supervising investigator, almost always when participants were participating in the Teabag walk.”

The results: For both men and women, walking like Teabag resulted in significantly higher energy expenditure, about 2.5 times more than walking normally or walking like Putey. In fact, the Teabag walk showed an energy intensity of eight METs, which is equivalent to vigorously intense exercise. Also, it’s fun, although one must be willing to appear a bit silly.

“At present, we cannot advocate generalizing the findings of this investigation and the general suggestion of decreased movement efficiency to other forms of exercise such as mountaineering, water sports (except water aerobics), or urban cycling.” the authors concluded. “Ineffective dancing has been around for generations, but too often that lone innovator at your local nightclub or on his cruise ship has been mocked instead of justified admiration (with the notable exception of break dancing).”

Listing image by BBC

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