February 4, 2023

Walking like John Cleese’s character, Mr. Teabag, in Monty Python’s famous “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch, requires significantly more energy expenditure than a normal walk because the movement is so inefficient, according to a new article published in the British medical journal’s annual Christmas issue. In fact, just walking 11 minutes a day like Mr. Teabag equivalent to 75 minutes of high-intensity physical activity per week, a new way to improve cardiovascular fitness.

“Half a century ago, the [Ministry of Silly Walks] sketch would have unknowingly touched on a powerful way to improve cardiovascular fitness in adults,” the authors wrote. to live.”

The Christmas issue of the BMJ tends to be more light-hearted, though the magazine maintains that articles published therein still “meet the same high standards of novelty, methodological rigor, transparency of reporting and readability as those that apply in the regular issue.” In recent 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 the concoction brewed in Roald Dahl’s 1981 book George’s great medicine. (It is indeed very poisonous.) The most widely read was in 1999’s infamous “Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Male and Female Genitalia During Coitus and Female Sexual Arousal”. (We wrote about the paper in 2019 to mark the 20th anniversary of its publication.)

Monty Python‘s classic “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch.

As we previously reported, the “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch first aired on September 15, 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 a little crazier lately.” Waiting for him in his office is a gentleman named Mr. Putey (Michael Palin), who seeks a grant from the Department to develop his own silly walk. Putey demonstrates his silly walk-in progress, but Teabag isn’t immediately impressed. “It’s not exactly crazy, is it?” he says. “I mean, the right leg isn’t crazy at all, and the left leg just makes a forward half turn in the air with each alternate step.” Putey insists that a government grant would allow him to make the walk very stupid indeed. Teabag eventually offers him a research grant for the Anglo-French goofy walk. The sketch cuts to a pair of French people demonstrating this “La Marche Futile”.

In 2020, two Dartmouth College scientists performed a gait analysis of the various crazy walks on display, and published their findings in the journal Gait and Posture. They studied both Putey’s and Teabag’s gait cycles in the video of the original 1970 televised skit, as well as Teabag’s gaits from a live performance in Los Angeles in 1980. They found that Teabag’s silly gait was much is more variable than a normal human gait – 6.7 times as much – while Putey’s walking step is only 3.3 times more variable.

But according to the authors of this latest article, the 2020 study did not measure the calorie expenditure of those silly gaits. So Glenn Gaesser of Arizona State University and his co-authors decided to “close this vital research gap.” The authors note that humans have evolved to “move in increasingly efficient ways,” but when it comes to cardiovascular fitness, “inefficiency of movement may be a desirable trait.” They thought it might be possible to reduce energy efficiency by adopting a more inefficient gait pattern, which would improve cardiovascular fitness without requiring them to exercise for an extended period of time. They called their approach PEMPA: Practice of Effort Maximization in Physical Activity.

For their studies, Gaesser et al. recruited 13 healthy adults (six females and seven males) between the ages of 22 and 71. The subjects completed three running trials on an indoor track: one running at their usual gait and chosen pace, one running (to the best of their ability) in Teabag’s manner, and a third attempting to walk 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 it sounds like most of the subjects enjoyed the experience.

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

GA Gaesser et al., 2022

“We did not measure minutes of laughter or number of smiles as a secondary outcome in inefficient walking,” the authors wrote. “Smiling during the inefficient walking tests could not be observed because the participants’ mouths were covered by the face mask worn during data collection. However, all participants smiled noticeably when removing the face mask. In addition, participants regularly uttered fits of laughter. noticed by the supervising researcher, almost always when participants in the tea bag walk were busy.”

The results: For both men and women, walking like Teabag resulted in significantly higher energy expenditure — about 2.5 times more than just walking or running like Putey. In fact, the tea bag walk showed an energy intensity of eight METs, representing a vigorous, high-intensity workout. Plus, it’s fun, although you have to be prepared to look a little crazy.

“At this time, we cannot argue in favor of generalizing the findings of this study and the general suggestion to reduce exercise efficiency to other forms of exercise, such as mountaineering, water sports (except water aerobics) or urban cycling,” the authors conclude. “Inefficient dancing has been around for generations, but all too often that lone innovator at your local nightclub or on your cruise ship has been the subject of ridicule rather than justifiable admiration (with the notable exception of breakdance).”

List image by BBC

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