Walking May be Best Prescription for Obese
By Catherine Tsai -
PressDENVER - Restaurant consultant John Imbergamo drives to
work but he takes time for a daily walk, either through Washington Park near
his home or from his office to clients downtown.
"I end up walking a lot. It's easier than
getting in my car and driving, especially downtown," said the 6-foot-1
(1.85-meter) Imbergamo, who at 280 pounds (126 kilograms) says walking is his
main form of exercise. "Hopefully walking helps me keep my weight where it
Slow walking burns more
Now researchers at the University of
Colorado at Boulder have better news for walkers: Strolling can help obese
adults burn more calories per mile than brisk walking and might even lower the
risk of arthritis and injuries to the joints than picking up the pace.
Doctoral student Ray Browning and his
colleagues studied 20 men and women of normal weight and 20 considered obese as
they walked set distances at different speeds. They found the obese people
burned more calories walking at a slower pace for a longer time than walking at
a faster speed.
It might be just the incentive needed for
people turned off by the traditional advice to take at least five brisk walks,
30 minutes at a time, per week.
About 60 million Americans age 20 or older
are considered obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Their health care costs amount to about $100 billion (euro84 billion) a year,
according to the American Obesity Association.
Browning says vigorous exercise can decrease
the risk of heart disease and other chronic illnesses, but a slow walk can help
people stay active while easing the stress on their joints. Obese adults are
more at risk for knee osteoarthritis, which can cause painful stiffness.
"We're not at all advocating less physical
activity, or less vigorous activity. We're just saying slow walking might be a
way to burn a few extra calories a week," said Browning, a former professional
Browning's team is trying to expand on the
idea that walking at a more leisurely pace puts less stress on a person's lower
Study: Obese burn fewer
Another study is aimed at unlocking a
surprise the Colorado researchers came across: Previous research showed that a
person of normal weight who tried to emulate an obese person by wearing leg
weights and walking with a wider leg swing spent 50 percent to 100 percent more
energy to walk.
But in the latest study, the team found
obese individuals spent only about 10 percent more energy than their lighter
"Does someone with obesity walk differently
than the way normal people walk? Do they do something to make it cheaper to
walk? It appears they do something in the walking pattern to make it cheaper,"
Browning said, meaning they burn fewer calories.
His team guessed that obese people may walk
with a straighter leg so the skeleton -- rather than muscles -- support their
weight, or that they walk with shorter, faster steps. It could be a year or two
to find an answer.
"People have speculated on whether
differences in the cost of energy expenditure are a factor in weight gain. He's
got a way to measure that now," said James Hill, head of the Center for Human
Nutrition at the University of Colorado at Denver.
If researchers can unlock the answer, they
can find ways for people to spend more energy simply by walking -- and
sometimes by walking slowly.
"The message we need to give people is, get
out and walk," said Hill, whose group America on the Move encourages walking
and small cutbacks in calories to lose weight. "Any speed is fine. Some
speeds are better than others, but get out and do it."