The study looked at why some people who consume the same amount of food as others gain more weight. Supplying participants with an extra 1,000 calories a day and tracking their every movement with motion-tracking underwear, the study's researchers found that the people who didn't gain weight were unconsciously moving around more.
Exercise was prohibited by the study. But the subjects were unconsciously making more little movements in response to the extra calorie consumption, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting, reports the Times. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn't.
"This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscle drops -- 'the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,' says [Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center] -- leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects," according to the Times. "Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides -- for 'vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,' as Hamilton puts it -- plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall."
In fact, people who spend more of their day sitting have a higher risk of dying, independent of age, sex, education, smoking, hypertension, and a slew of other physiological factors, according to another study cited in the article.
Getting in extra exercise to offset a day's worth of sitting doesn't help, either: "Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym," the Times says. "It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin."
In fact, says the study's author, James Levine, "Excessive sitting is a lethal activity."
Levine is working to find ways for people to redesign their environments so they encourage more movement, and calls his concept of reaping major benefits through thousands of minor movements each day "NEAT": Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
But the bottom line for anyone, regardless of their environment, is that more little movements are helpful to health.