Instead of Dieting After the Holidays, Take the Bus

Driving just 1 mile less per day is more effective at reducing weight than cutting back on 100 calories per day

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After all the turkey, cookies, gravy, ham or other holiday indulgences of choice, people looking to shed the holiday pounds (or just establish a healthy life style for 2013) might consider cutting down on driving rather than just cutting down on calories. A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois found that reducing daily driving in cars, even by just a little bit, translates into gradual weight loss—even more so than cutting down slightly on daily calorie intake.

While the researchers do not claim that limiting time behind the wheel alone will produce a fit body, they do say its an effective means of weight loss in combination with cutting back on calories or working out. Over the course of the year, simply walking to and from the bus or train stop once a day will add up.

Body weight, of course, is a result of energy consumed versus energy expended. Any time a person sits behind the wheel of their car, they’re not moving and not burning many calories. The researchers created a computer model of national average body weights, caloric intake and driving habits to see how those three variables related.

If all adults in the U.S. drove just 1 mile less per day, they found, the model predicted an associated decrease in national body mass indexes of 0.04 pounds per square foot. To put that figure into perspective, cutting back 100 calories per day would reduce national averages by 0.03 pounds per square foot. While that doesn’t sound like much, the drop in national weight averages could represent significant cost savings, especially if that figure further declined with exercise and better eating. Annual health care costs could drop alongside obesity, and driving who chose to walk or take public transportation would save on fuel costs.

“One mile is really not much,” the researchers pointed out in a statement. “These small changes in our driving and dietary habits can lead to long-term significant changes in obesity issues.”

Read more articles about the holidays in our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here

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