The Role of Free-Living Daily Walking in Human Weight Gain and Obesity

  1. James A. Levine,
  2. Shelly K. McCrady,
  3. Lorraine M. Lanningham-Foster,
  4. Paul H. Kane,
  5. Randal C. Foster and
  6. Chinmay U. Manohar
  1. From the Endocrine Research Unit, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to James A. Levine, Endocrine Research Unit, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905. E-mail: jim{at}


OBJECTIVE—Diminished daily physical activity explains, in part, why obesity and diabetes have become worldwide epidemics. In particular, chair use has replaced ambulation, so that obese individuals tend to sit for ∼2.5 h/day more than lean counterparts. Here, we address the hypotheses that free-living daily walking distance is decreased in obesity compared with lean subjects and that experimental weight gain precipitates decreased daily walking.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS—During weight-maintenance feeding, we measured free-living walking using a validated system that captures locomotion and body movement for 10 days in 22 healthy lean and obese sedentary individuals. These measurements were then repeated after the lean and obese subjects were overfed by 1,000 kcal/day for 8 weeks.

RESULTS—We found that free-living walking comprises many (∼47) short-duration (<15 min), low-velocity (∼1 mph) walking bouts. Lean subjects walked 3.5 miles/day more than obese subjects (n = 10, 10.3 ± 2.5 vs. n = 12, 6.7 ± 1.8 miles/day; P = 0.0009). With overfeeding, walking distance decreased by 1.5 miles/day compared with baseline values (−1.5 ± 1.7 miles/day; P = 0.0005). The decrease in walking that accompanied overfeeding occurred to a similar degree in the lean (−1.4 ± 1.9 miles/day; P = 0.04) and obese (−1.6 ± 1.7 miles/day; P = 0.008) subjects.

CONCLUSIONS—Walking is decreased in obesity and declines with weight gain. This may represent a continuum whereby progressive increases in weight are associated with progressive decreases in walking distance. By identifying walking as pivotal in weight gain and obesity, we hope to add credence to an argument for an ambulatory future.


  • Published ahead of print at on 16 November 2007. DOI: 10.2337/db07-0815.

    Additional information for this article can be found in an online appendix at

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    • Received June 17, 2007.
    • Accepted November 4, 2007.
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