Quantifying the benefits of inefficient walking: Monty Python inspired laboratory based experimental study

BMJ. 2022 Dec 21:379:e072833. doi: 10.1136/bmj-2022-072833.


Objective: To compare the rate of energy expenditure of low efficiency walking with high efficiency walking.

Design: Laboratory based experimental study.

Setting: United States.

Participants: 13 healthy adults (six women, seven men) with no known gait disorder, mean (±standard deviation) age 34.2±16.1 years, height 174.2±12.6 cm, weight 78.2±22.5 kg, and body mass index 25.6±6.0.

Intervention: Participants performed three, five minute walking trials around an indoor 30 m course. The first trial consisted of walking at a freely chosen walking speed in the participant's usual style. The next two trials consisted of low efficiency walks in which participants were asked to duplicate the walks of Mr Teabag and Mr Putey (acted by John Cleese and Michael Palin, respectively) in the legendary Monty Python Ministry of Silly Walks (MoSW) skit that first aired in 1970. Distance covered during the five minute walks was used to calculate average speed. Ventilation and gas exchange were collected throughout to determine oxygen uptake (V̇O2; mL O2/kg/min) and energy expenditure (EE; kcal/kg/min; 1 kcal=4.18 kJ), reported as mean±standard deviation.

Main outcome measures: V̇O2 and EE.

Results: V̇O2 and EE were about 2.5 times higher (P<0.001) during the Teabag walk compared with participants' usual walk (27.9±4.8 v 11.3±1.9 mL O2/kg/min; 0.14±0.03 v 0.06±0.01 kcal/kg/min), but were not different during the Putey walk (12.3±1.8 mL/kg/min; 0.06±0.01 kcal/kg/min). Each minute of Teabag walking increased EE over participants' usual walking by an average of 8.0 kcal (range 5.5-12.0) in men and by 5.2 kcal (range 3.9-6.2) in women, and qualified as vigorous intensity physical activity (>6 resting metabolic equivalents).

Conclusions: For adults with no known gait disorder who average approximately 5000 steps/day, exchanging about 22%-34% of their daily steps with higher energy, low efficiency walking in Teabag style-requiring around 12-19 min-could increase daily EE by 100 kcal. Adults could achieve 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week by walking inefficiently for about 11 min/day. Had an initiative to promote inefficient movement been adopted in the early 1970s, we might now be living among a healthier society. Efforts to promote higher energy-and perhaps more joyful-walking should ensure inclusivity and inefficiency for all.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiration
  • Walking*
  • Young Adult