John Cleese’s classic “silly walk” burns more calories than a normal walk
You walk like John Cleese’s character, Mr. Teabag, in the famous Monty PythonMinistry of Stupid Walks” skit requires significantly more energy expenditure than normal walking because the movement is so inefficient, according to new work published in the annual Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal. In fact, just 11 minutes a day of walking like Mr Teabag was equivalent to 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity a week, presenting a new way of strengthening cardiovascular fitness.
“Half a century ago, [Ministry of Silly Walks] skit may have unwittingly tapped into a powerful way to improve cardiovascular fitness in adults,” the authors wrote. “If the initiative to promote inefficient movement had been adopted in the early 1970s, we may now be living in a healthier society.”
The Christmas edition of the BMJ is usually more light-hearted the magazine holds that the papers published in it continue to “adhere to the same high standards of novelty, methodological rigor, transparency of reporting and readability that are applied in the regular issue.” In the past years included papers on topics such as why 27 is not a dangerous age for musicians, the side effects of swallowing a sword and toxicity measurement the concoctions cooked up in Roald Dahl’s 1981 book George’s miracle cure. (It is very toxic indeed.) The most widely read was the infamous “ from 1999.Magnetic resonance imaging of male and female genital organs during coitus and female sexual arousal.” (Me wrote about the paper 2019 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the exhibition.)
As we previously reported, “Ministry of Stupid Walks” skit. first broadcast on 15 September 1970 on BBC One. It begins with Mr. Teabag buying a newspaper on his way to work—which takes him a little longer than usual because his walk has “become rather dumber lately.” Waiting for him in his office is a gentleman named Mr. Putey (Michael Palin), who is asking the Ministry for support to develop his own stupid walk. Putey demonstrates his silly entrance, but Teabag is not immediately impressed. “Not particularly silly, is it?” he says. “I mean, the right leg isn’t funny at all, and the left leg just does a half turn forward every alternate step.” Putey insists that a government grant would allow him to make the walk very silly indeed. Teabag eventually offers him a scholarship to research the Anglo-French stupid walk. The sketch cuts to a couple of Frenchmen demonstrating this “La Marche Futile”.
In 2020, two scientists from Dartmouth College conducted a gait analysis of various silly walks exhibited, publication of their findings in the journal Gait and Posture. They studied Putey’s and Teabag’s gait cycles in a video of the original 1970 television sketch, as well as Teabag’s steps from a 1980 live stage performance in Los Angeles. They found that Teabag’s goofy gait is much more variable than a normal human gait – 6.7 times more – while Putey’s ongoing gait is only 3.3 times more variable.
But according to the authors of this latest paper, the 2020 study didn’t measure the calorie consumption of those 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, “movement inefficiency may be a desirable trait.” They reasoned that it might be possible to reduce energy efficiency by adopting a more inefficient gait, thereby improving cardiovascular fitness without the need for prolonged exercise. They called their approach PEMPA: the practice of maximizing effort in physical activity.
For their study, Gaesser et al. recruited 13 healthy adults (six women and seven men) aged 22 to 71 years. Subjects completed three trials of walking on a closed course: one walking at their normal gait and chosen pace, one walking (as best they could) Teabag-like, and the third trying to walk like Putey. All subjects wore portable metabolic measuring systems for measuring oxygen intake (ml/kg/min), energy expenditure (kcal/kg/min) and exercise intensity (MET). And it sounds like most respondents enjoyed the experience.
“We did not measure minutes spent laughing or number of smiles as secondary outcomes during ineffective walking,” the authors wrote. “Smiling during the ineffective walking test could not be observed because the participant’s mouth was obscured by a face mask worn during data collection. However, all participants were noticeably smiling after the mask was removed. Moreover, participants’ bursts of laughter were frequently observed by the supervising investigator, almost whenever the participants were involved in the Teabag walk.”
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, walking on a tea bag showed an energy intensity of eight METs, which is equivalent to vigorous exercise. Plus, it’s fun, although you have to be prepared to look a little silly.
“Currently, we cannot advocate the generalization of the findings of this research and the general suggestion that movement efficiency be reduced to other forms of exercise such as hiking, water sports (except water aerobics) or urban cycling,” the authors concluded. “Ineffective dancing has been around for generations, but all too often that lone innovator at your local nightclub or on your boat has been the object of derision rather than justified admiration (with the notable exception of break dancing).”
Image of the BBC list