In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

March 6, 2014

Fitness for fidgety folks

By Hoyt Finnamore


If you've been wondering what's up with all those folks sporting fancy new plastic wristbands, well, welcome to the club. It turns out these fitness-tracking accessories have really caught on with the sporty crowd as a way to monitor motion and activity, and help them reach their fitness goals. (Two words we avoid when we can.) Two words that have captured our attention, however, are magic underwear. Yes, as unlikely as it may seem, this fitness and fashion fad may have its origins, according to ABC News, in early fitness tracking studies by way of what they call "magic underwear" created by one of our own.

It turns out that many moons ago, Mayo Clinic’s James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., (you may have heard of him) came up with the notion that since people wear underwear (and we quote) “most of the time,” strapping a tracking device to said undergarments might provide a way to gather information on how much these folks actually moved. ABC News reports that by monitoring people wearing what Dr. Levine calls “fidget pants” (we much prefer "magic underwear"), he learned that “thin people tap their feet, jiggle their pencils, and shift in their seats about two and half hours more each day than obese people do.”

That was a fine finding, but Dr. Levine realized it may not be the most convenient way to track movement. Over time, fidget-pants gave way to a sensor around the spine, which then evolved into a chip inserted into the heel of a shoe. Others caught onto this idea, and eventually, the motion-tracking bracelet was born. And now they're everywhere, in many shapes and from many different labels. (One of them is even NEAT certified.)

Dr. Levine is a firm believer that gyms aren't the answer to solving the nation's obesity crisis. Instead, he says, the answer may lie in what we do in the workplace and other things we do outside the gym. He tells the Los Angeles Times that, “Becoming a body in motion that stays in motion could help you burn 500 or more extra calories a day.” It’s what he calls NEAT fitness, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. “It means cranking up the body's calorie-burning abilities by weaving in near-constant movement -- such as standing, walking, even pacing -- at every opportunity,” Dr. Levine tells the Times.  (Even we can get behind that.) And now you can monitor your fidgeting, pacing and pencil tapping all with a simple device that easy to wear. Most of the time.

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