Walking the Talk

By Allison J. Cleary

If James Levine has his way, your next desk could be a treadmill.

With his keen sense of humor, British accent and unstoppable enthusiasm, Levine now travels the globe to persuade governments, corporations and individuals to turn offices, schools and other environments upside down, maximizing daily activity with creative solutions like treadmill desks and indoor walking tracks.

Q: You’ve said your research has convinced you that everyday movement may be more important to a person’s health than deliberate exercise. How is this possible?

The key is the calories you burn throughout your day through normal activity, predominantly comprised of the walking you do and the mooching around that is life. You do it for many hours every single day, rendering it more important than something you do very intensively yet very infrequently.

Q: How can an office worker who uses his or her lunch break to go to the gym get as much exercise simply walking down the hallways?

What does it really mean when you spend an hour at lunchtime going to the gym? You get the keys, go down the elevator, get to the car, drive to the gym and about 20 minutes later check in, go down to the locker room, change and get on the exercise bike. With no warm up you pound away for 20 minutes, look down at the little readout, see 64 calories, and jump off the exercise bike now stressed-out rather than calmed. You jump into the shower, take another 5 minutes for your hair, jump back into the car, arrive at work, and you don’t feel great. For all of that you achieve 20 minutes of real exercise. You do it three times a week and you’re talking about burning cumulatively 192 calories.

Now, take a different scenario. Let’s say every day you have two one-hour meetings and instead of having those meetings sitting down opposite your supervisor at a desk, you walk. That’s two hours of very slow (1 mph) walking every day. Each of those walks will burn 100 calories—that’s 200 calories per day. So already in one day of meetings, without rushing, without stretching or even changing your clothes, you’ve burned more calories than the person who went to the gym three times. It’s the idea of lots of low-intensity movement being more powerful than short bursts of high intensity.

Next: James Levine talks about willpower »

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