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

According to a new article in the annual Christmas issue, walking like John Cleese’s character Mr. Teabag in Monty Python’s famous “Ministry of Silly Walks” skit requires a lot more energy than a normal walking gait because the movement is so inefficient. British Medical Journal. In fact, walking just 11 minutes a day like Mr. Teabag was equivalent to 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, offering a new way to increase cardiovascular fitness.

“Half a century ago, [Ministry of Silly Walks] Skit may have unwittingly referred to a powerful way to increase cardiovascular fitness in adults, they wrote. “Had an initiative to encourage unproductive movement had been adopted in the early 1970s, we might now be living in a healthier society.”

The BMJ’s Christmas issue is typically more festive, but the journal claims that the articles published there still “adhere to the same high standards of innovation, methodological rigor, reporting transparency, and readability that prevail in the regular issue.” In the past years, articles have appeared on topics such as why 27 is not a dangerous age for musicians, the side effects of sword swallowing, and measuring the toxicity of leavening mix in Roald Dahl’s 1981 book. George’s Fabulous Medicine. (Very poisonous indeed.) The most widely read was the infamous 1999 “Magnetic resonance imaging of male and female genitalia during coitus and female sexual arousal.” (We wrote about the newspaper in 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its publication.)

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Monty Python‘s classic “Ministry of Stupid Walks” vignette.

As we previously reported, the draft “Ministry of Stupid Walks” was first broadcast on BBC One on 15 September 1970. It starts with Mr. Teabag picking up a newspaper on his way to work – which takes a little longer than usual as his walk has “been pretty dumb lately”. A gentleman named Mr. Putey (Michael Palin) is waiting for him in his office, seeking a grant from the Ministry to improve his own stupid walk. Putey demonstrates his silly gait, but Teabag is not immediately impressed. “It’s not so silly, is it?” says. “I mean, the right leg isn’t stupid at all, and the left leg only makes a half-air forward turn with each step.” Putey insists that a government grant would allow him to make the march really stupid. Teabag finally offers him a research fellowship on the Anglo-French walk of fools. The sketch shows a pair of Frenchmen depicting this “La Marche Futile”.

In 2020, two scientists at Dartmouth College conducted a gait analysis of the various silly gaits on display and published their findings in the journal Gait and Posture. They examined both Putey’s and Teabag’s marching loops in the video of the original 1970 television sketch, and Teabag’s marches from a 1980 live stage performance in Los Angeles. They found that Tea Bag’s silly gait was much more variable (6.7 times more variable) than a normal human gait, while Putey’s progress was only 3.3 times more variable.

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But according to the authors of this latest paper, the 2020 research did not measure the calorie expenditure of these silly walks. So Glenn Gaesser of Arizona State University and his co-authors decided to “fill this vital research gap.” The authors note that humans have “evolved to move in increasingly efficient ways,” but when it comes to cardiovascular fitness, “immobility inefficiency may be a desirable trait.” They thought it might be possible to reduce energy efficiency by adopting a more unproductive gait, thereby increasing cardiovascular fitness without having to exercise for longer periods of time. They named their approach PEMPA: the practice of effort maximization in physical activity.

Gaesser for his work take meat. Thirteen healthy adults (six women and seven men) aged 22 to 71 years were recruited. Subjects completed three walking trials in an indoor track: one walking their normal gait and walking at their chosen pace, one (as best they could) Teabag style walking, and a third walking like Putey. All subjects wore portable metabolic measurement systems to measure oxygen uptake (ml/kg/min), energy expenditure (kcal/kg/min), and exercise intensity (METs). And most of the subjects seem to have enjoyed the experience.

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Graph showing the energy expenditure (kcal/kg/min; 1 kcal=4.18 kj) measured during normal and unproductive walking of the participants in men and women.
Enlarge / Graph showing the energy expenditure (kcal/kg/min; 1 kcal=4.18 kj) measured during normal and unproductive walking of the participants in men and women.

GA Gaesser et al., 2022

“We did not measure the minutes spent laughing or the number of smiles as secondary outcomes when walking unproductively,” the authors wrote. “Smiling could not be observed in unproductive walking trials as the face mask worn during data collection covered the participants’ mouths. However, all participants were noticeably smiling after removing the face mask. Also, bursts of laughter were frequently recorded from the participants by the supervisory researcher, almost always when participants went on the Tea Bag walk. “

Results: For both men and women, walking like a Tea Bag resulted in significantly more energy expenditure; about 2.5 times more than normal walking or walking like Putey. In fact, the Tea Bag walk showed an energy density of eight METs, which stands for vigorously intense exercise. Plus, it’s fun, but one has to be willing to look a little silly.

“At this time, we cannot generalize the findings of this research and advocate the general recommendation to reduce efficiency in movement to other forms of exercise, such as mountaineering, water sports (excluding water aerobics), or urban cycling.” “Bad dance has been around for generations, but for the most part, that lone hipster at your local nightclub or cruise ship has been ridiculed rather than justified admiration (with the notable break-dancing exception).

listing image by BBC

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