Walking the Talk

By Allison J. Cleary

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

Q: What could a single mom with toddlers do?

Well, we in fact worked with just such a woman. She had a 9-to-3 job and after work she collected her 4- and 2-year-olds, put them into a double stroller and walked the mall for an hour. Then, because the 4-year-old went to bed consistently at 7:30 but the 2-year-old bounced around until 9 p.m., she put on music and danced with the baby.

My personal theory is that people are incredibly smart and creative. You provide them with good information and they will come up with an answer.

Q: Are you still standing for this phone interview?

Of course, I’m walking around. Portable phones are great, but the extra-long cords you can get for $5 are also fabulous. I’ve been walking at a shopping pace (1 mph) for the last hour, and I’ve burned 100 calories. If I’d stood still I would have burned 10 calories. If I’d sat I would have burned 5.

What really inspires our patients, when we show them their numbers, is that at a shopping pace, you double your metabolic rate. At two miles per hour, you triple it. When you see yourself burning an extra 100 calories an hour, just by mooching around, why would you ever sit down?

Q: You’ve suggested that we must completely revolutionize the office environment to include treadmill desks and walking tracks for meetings. Has anyone accused you of being just a little bit wacky?

I’ve had scientists call me delusional, questioning how any researcher, based on data on relatively few people, could suggest that we need to completely uplift how we live. Science doesn’t normally speak in such large brushstrokes. We’re talking about societal change in a way that most of us can’t even contemplate yet. Most colleagues are very receptive; there’s a global recognition that this is really, really important information.

If you perform the work, look at the data and believe it, you can’t help but respond and advocate for people. In fact, it’s the dream of every scientist to influence how people think and behave.

Next: James Levine talks more about his research and personal patterns »

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